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8/16/2011
11:49 AM
Ed Hansberry
Ed Hansberry
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Sprint Passes On WiMAX PlayBook

Another blow for RIM's BlackBerry PlayBook tablet as Sprint nixes plans to carry a WiMAX version.

When the Blackberry PlayBook launched, reception was tepid at best, from everyone. Carriers haven't been breaking down the doors to carry the tablet, most articles and reviews haven't been favorable, and sales have been slow. Enterprise adoption, even among Blackberry shops, has been slow, though those same companies are beginning to embrace the tablet form factor in the form of an iPad.

Part of the reason is the tablet cannot access email on its own. Instead, you have to partner it with a Blackberry phone. As long as the phone is in range, email is available on the PlayBook, but once separated, the email app goes dormant. Initially RIM claimed this was a security measure that companies craved. No one has been able to explain why accessing email directly on a tablet is a security risk but accessing it on a smartphone isn't. That said, RIM is working on a software update to add the security flaw native email on the device.

The other reason is the apps, or lack thereof. It is a new platform and the apps available for it are a pittance compared to what the iPad has.

Sprint currently carries the Wi-Fi version and in January, they announced they would offer a WiMax-enabled version when it was available. According to Fierce Wireless though, Sprint has gone from an indefinite postponement of the device to outright cancellation. Sprint claims that enterprise customers just aren't catching on.

The iPad is the king of tablets right now, but Sprint also cited increased competition from Android-powered devices like the Xoom.

RIM will move forward on a 4G version based on Long-Term Evolution (LTE) technology, but that will be a tough sell. AT&T and Sprint sell Wi-Fi versions, but T-Mobile and Verizon have not committed to the device at all.

RIM is in a tough spot right now. While Blackberry 7 devices are coming, it is a stop-gap operating system. It is an incremental upgrade from 6.0 and is aimed at retaining customers long enough for the QNX-based platform to launch on smartphones. It reminds me of Windows Mobile 6.5. It was mostly window dressing to keep something new in the market until Windows Phone 7 launched.

With the PlayBook doing so poorly compared to other tablets and Blackberry share decreasing, RIM needs a game changer to turn things around. There is nothing on the horizon though that says they have anything like that planned. The talk was the PlayBook was to be the start of a new era for RIM, but it hasn't turned out that way, at least not yet. Blackberry 7 won't do it either. We'll have to wait and see what happens with the QNX-based smartphone platform. Will it be too little, too late?

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