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Whither the BlackBerry PlayBook?

The BlackBerry PlayBook has had a rough few days. Can the RIM tablet actually hold up in a market dominated by the Apple iPad?

By Matthew Shaer / April 19, 2011

The BlackBerry PlayBook certainly looks pretty sweet. But the device has not won universal admiration among critics.

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It is hard to envision a rougher launch for a top-shelf tablet computer. Over the past few days, the BlackBerry PlayBook –– a next-generation machine adorned with a range of niceties, including front- and rear-facing cameras, and Adobe Flash capability –– has been pelted by reviewers and slammed by bloggers. The PlayBook is too reliant on BlackBerry Bridge, the critics say. The PlayBook lacks the technological capability of the iPad, critics say.

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"Were it not for the enormous, Apple-induced pressure on RIM to produce a tablet, it would have – and should have – been delayed further," writes Fritz Nelson of Information Week. "Crucial features, namely desktop connectivity and the infamous Bridge software that provides messaging and scheduling, are only half baked. It all works, but with too many end-user sacrifices."

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Over at SlashGear, Chris Davies concurs: "If there’s one message that comes through loud and clear about the BlackBerry PlayBook.... it’s that RIM’s first tablet is half-baked in its current state. The 7-inch slate is dependent on a phone for half of its key apps," Davies writes, "glitchy in more places than it should be, and has left reviewers warning would-be early-adopters that it might even be too early for them to consider, well, adopting."

Harsh words, obviously. So does this mean the BlackBerry PlayBook –– which hit shelves today –– is totally cooked? Well, it depends. Investment firm Piper Jaffray recently released the results of a new survey of 4,500 American high school students, which showed Apple remained one of the most coveted brands on the market; according to the survey, plenty of teenagers are considering buying tablets, and those tablets are likely to be iPads.

Of course, the PlayBook isn't geared toward high school students. It's a business tablet, aimed at the kind of people who use their BlackBerry phones religiously. But even there, RIM faces an uphill battle. Just as Google became synonymous with Internet search, the iPad is, at this point, pretty much synonymous with the tablet computer.

Consider some figures published by ABI Research, a marketing firm based in New York: In Q3 of 2010, ABI reported, 4.5 tablet computers were shipped. 93 percent were iPads. And that was before the Apple iPad 2 was officially unveiled (and of course before the Xoom, which also isn't doing so hot). The math is hard to avoid: The Apple iPad continues to dominate the press cycle, and soak up positive reviews, including a few from the sticklers over at Consumer Reports.

Whither the not-exactly-excitedly received PlayBook? Drop us a line in the comments section –– and keep it civil, folks. In the meantime, to stay abreast of the big tech news, sign up for the free weekly Innovation newsletter, which is emailed out every Wednesday.

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