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6/20/2011
03:44 PM
Eric Zeman
Eric Zeman
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RIM PlayBook's Slow Start: U.S. Carriers to Blame?

The tablet maker's best partners, AT&T and Verizon Wireless, have offered a distinct lack of support so far. That's holding RIM back from enjoying wider success.

In its most recent quarterly earnings report, filed last week, RIM pointed out that it shipped approximately 500,000 BlackBerry PlayBook tablets since launch. That's not a whole lot compared to the millions of iPads. Is anyone to blame other than RIM for the PlayBook's muted start? Possibly its best partners.

Let's start with AT&T. One of the most critical components to making the PlayBook an enterprise grade product is the Bridge application, which lets BlackBerrys share their email, contacts, and calendar data with the PlayBook. Without Bridge, the PlayBook gets no email, and is more or less neutered as an effective business tool.

AT&T has yet to approve Bridge for use on its BlackBerrys.

On April 19, when the PlayBook launched, an AT&T spokesperson told InformationWeek, "AT&T is working with RIM to make the BlackBerry Bridge app available for AT&T customers. We have received the app for testing and before it's made available to AT&T customers we want to ensure it delivers a quality experience for our customers."

It's been two months since AT&T issued that statement. What the heck is going on over there, AT&T? How long does it really take to test an application? Two months seems an outrageously long time for AT&T to look at an app that has already been approved by Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless.

AT&T said Monday, however, that there's been no change in the status of the Bridge application. With no support from AT&T, that leaves potentially millions of BlackBerry users without the ability to connect their BlackBerry with a PlayBook. I am sure RIM is in love with AT&T right now.

Verizon Wireless isn't helping much, either. The company has agreed to sell the PlayBook (right now, the Wi-Fi version only), but strictly through its enterprise sales channels. That means the IT department can ring up the local Verizon business rep and place an order, but there aren't any PlayBook's for sale at Verizon Wireless retail shops.

When asked about the issue back in April, Verizon Wireless spokesperson Brenda Raney said, "We're still evaluating the PlayBook and haven't made a decision on whether we're going to distribute it." Verizon didn't immediately respond when asked if its stance has changed.

Sprint at least sells the Wi-Fi version, and offers support for the PlayBook via its website. T-Mobile does not list the PlayBook for sale.

The carriers will have a better reason to sell the PlayBook when it ships with 3G/4G radios on board. Too bad for RIM it has delayed those variants until "the fall."

The WiMax version of the PlayBook, for example, was announced nearly six months ago and was supposed to launch this summer. A delay of three months isn't the end of the world, but who knows what the tablet landscape will look like then.

For RIM, the 3G/4G versions of the PlayBook can't arrive soon enough, because until they do, it is likely to see little support from AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless.

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