Chris Lau - Seeking Alpha

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Saturday, March 03, 2012

Blackberry Playbook 2.0 Review: Ugly Duckling to Swan



Blackberry released Playbook 2.0 in February 2012, some 10 months after its initial launch. Playbook 2.0 marks a decisive internal achievement for the company. RIM was not in a position to release another Storm device. QNX 2 is also the framework for Blackberry 10, so all work would eventually form the basis for its next-generation device.

Playbook 1.08 was Blackberry's ugly duckling of devices. While it was usable and functional, other users found it clumsy, difficult to pair with blackberry phones (initially), and included applications like Office and Adobe Acrobat reader basic.

In the time between the initial launch and the re-release, the tablet landscape changed in so many ways. HP's WebOS tablet was released, then discontinued 6 weeks later and sold at a fire sale price of $99. Amazon's Kindle Fire re-defined the baseline price for tablets at $199. Finally, Apple iPad 2 continued to be the tablet market.

Playbook 2.0 now costs $199, but is comparatively less expensive to own than Amazon's Kindle Fire and is more functional. Front/back cameras, memory, storage, app world, and productivity applications are only a few of the things that are included with 2.0.

Playbook 2.0 is a modest but complete evolution from version 1. Within its new price-range, the device is a “swan” compared to what it was before. At the top of the strong points for Playbook are pricing and portability.  Functionality is strongest for web browsing, watching videos, and corresponding by emails.
The Playbook made emailing fun again.

A welcome touch was this email signature:
Sent from my BlackBerry® PlayBook™
www.blackberry.com

Having used the device for this long, this review will be bias with praise, so the discussion will be about how to make the most from the device. This entry was made directly from the Playbook device connected to a Bluetooth keyboard.
Making $2490 from $249
Getting the Playbook on “the cloud” is very simple, and just requires a few application downloads and a bit of changes in process.
Securities analysis requires the reading of hundreds of pages of documents. SEC filings in Excel, Word, and PDF format can easily be read on the playbook. This is done in the following way:
1. Installing "BlueBox"
2. Creating an account on Dropbox to connect to the BlueBox application
3. Using the Playbook browser to download attachments and saving to the device
4. Copying the files so that it may be accessed on a desktop or any computer with Dropbox installed
5. Using the new File Manager or 'Air Browser' to transfer from the BlueBox folder to the device

Note: Air Browser is a free application download.

BlueBox:


AIR Browser:



All Work and No Play...
To celebrate the launch, Blackberry made Asphalt 6 and Modern Combat available for free. They are inexpensive ($0.99) but are excellent games.

Playbook now supports folders. Below is a screen capture (press + and - buttons to capture an image). Here are some recommended games to buy or download for the Playbook:




Playbook demonstrates that Facebook is a Glorified Birthday Reminder. Birthdays are added to the calendar. As more appointments are added in a given day, the day number on the calendar gets bigger.
Email and calendar support was added to 2.0. When linking an email account to the device, contacts and calendar appointments are synchronized to the Playbook. Users are notified by way of a glowing red at the top left of the screen, and/or a blinking red LED. The email application supports twitter direct messages (unless the account is a corporation), LinkedIn, Gmail, Hotmail, POP email, and Facebook:





Video Chat
RIM integrated video chat to social media accounts to the Playbook. Facebook contacts show up on the Video Chat contacts list. Contacts who use a Playbook may be reached by video.

Connecting Playbook to Smartphone (“Bridge”)
Linking the blackberry phone to the Playbook was a breeze. After downloading an update for the phone, Blackberry bridge pairing (Bluetooth) was effortless.

Send Blackberry Phone Attachments to Playbook
To read file attachments more effectively, or to open website URLs received on a smart phone, users may now send them to the Playbook.

Mouse and Keyboard Included
Blackberry phone users have one more reason to own a Playbook. Blackberry Bridge connection turns the smart phone into a mouse and a keyboard. The phone may now be used as an alternative to the on-screen keyboard, or as a remote control if the tablet is used for watching movies. To connect the Playbook via HDMI, a micro-HDMI (not included but costs about $5) is required.

Playbook Spell Check and SwiftKey Keyboard
Playbook 1.0 did not have a fully functional spell-check. Typos would be identified but the correct spelling was not offered. In 2.0, the predictive text integrates well with spell-checking:




Docs to Go, Print To Go, and Android Applications
The included Docs to Go application is improved. Word count and bookmarks are two improvements in the Word program. "Print To Go" is a new application that enables users to send print documents from desktops to the Playbook. Note that this only works if the Playbook and the desktop are connected to the same network.
To help developers port Android application to the Playbook, RIM added support for Android. Consumers are confused in thinking Android applications are directly supported on the Playbook. This is not true. The Android-based application must be approved by RIM and then posted to App World.

Final Thoughts
At the current price point, Playbook 2.0 will likely sell better than anyone expects, but it will not generate substantial profits for RIM at this time. This implies that consumers end up the winner in getting a fully-functional, portable, device that gets the job of emailing, HTML5/Flash-supported web surfing, and document management done at prices far lower than that of the iPad. Retailing at between $519 and above, Apple might lower the price of iPad2 when iPad3 is released on March 7. This would strike to be an unusual move for Apple, since Apple rarely needs to discount any of its products to maintain its competitive position.
Recall that when Playbook was originally launched, RIM and the market focused on building a device comparable to the specifications of iPad1. Apple surprised the market by releasing iPad2, making things worse for RIM. As it stands, RIM's competitive threat to Apple is quite low, although RIM managed to reach a double-digit market share for tablets in Canada by December 2011.

The competitive positioning for RIM is very clear: the company must play on its own internal strength of group messaging (BBM) and the frugality of a cheaper smart phone/tablet data plan to appeal to consumers. Blackberry 7, albeit a "transition" operating system until BB10 is ready, is still a very functional device. The Torch 2 and Bold line-up have processors over 1.2GHz and whose web browsing experience is better than the older models. Even the Curve works well with the Playbook.

Two further points are worth mentioning. Marketing for RIM in North America needs to be limited and focused. Both Apple and Android dominate, so any advertising is likely to be of limited effectiveness. Where RIM shines is in countries where consumers are conscious about their monthly plan costs. With Nokia's Windows-based phones competing in the low-end, RIM must ensure consumers chose Blackberry when upgrading from a feature phone. With Playbook 2.0’s solid functionality alongside its smart phone as a companion, RIM added another reason to take choose a Blackberry.

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