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Greg’s bite: RIM PlayBook pre-flops; Android Honeycomb blues

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By Greg Mills

RIM’s PlayBook is badly flawed. As I have blogged in this space for some time now, RIM’s PlayBook appears to be fatally flawed in a number of ways, coming out of the gate. The tech world, having become accustomed to vaporware from Microsoft that never arrives as advertised, is bracing for delays in RIM actually launching critical software for the half-baked PlayBook platform.

RIM thinks the BlackBerry faithful will buy PlayBook despite notable deficiencies such as no email client, GPS or radio versions of the tablet. Just about all the functions promised are not ready to launch with the hardware. This promises to be a “shoot your own foot” sort of product that might actually eclipse Microsoft’s Kin phone. Did you know Kin phones won’t run Windows Mobile 7?

With much fanfare RIM recently announced that the PlayBook platform would support Android apps running on a promised but non-existing Android run-time app. When one digs further, the Android apps that will run in the Android “sandbox” are limited to those apps specifically adapted by their developers and distributed only at the PlayBook online store. PlayBook is not an open Android platform, run time app coming or not. A further issue is that only Android apps that run on Android 2.2 will work with the expected runtime app.

Another defining problem RIM has is that they have lost focus and what was originally touted as a “business tablet computer.” PlayBook turns out to be so lame in actual business functions it can hardly be placed in that category. Just how serious a beating RIM takes on PlayBook will be directly proportional to the number of devices they build and can’t sell.  

The prospects of a major flop of a new platform will keep even the RIM faithful at bay. I think the stock market has it right as RIM stock took a beating recently based upon bad reviews by Pogue and other astute tech observers who have far more influence than I have.  

It was noted that the chief marketing executive at RIM quit before PlayBook was due to be released. Are there more major weaknesses that haven’t been noticed yet, or is all the dirty underwear already hanging out to dry? The CEOs of RIM don’t think the bad product reviews are fair, citing technological strong points they have built into PlayBook such as HDTV output.  Well, it seems the iPad 2 also has HDTV output with a $39 adapter.  

The CEOs of RIM need to remember, the market place is the final arbitrator of choosing hit products. Companies that waste a lot of money on loser products can stem the flow of red ink by killing the product — or they can just continue beat a dead horse. Dead horses don’t win races.  PlayBook isn’t even close to being an iPad killer. I still await a teardown to find out how much RIM is losing on each PlayBook they sell at prices Apple makes money on.

The Android OS for tablets is also floundering badly. The Motorola Xoom has sold less than 100,000 units in the first month of sales according to sources quoted in the press.  Compare that with upcoming iPad 2 numbers expected to be a couple of million or more in the same first month time frame. Xoom was, unfortunately for Motorola, released just as the iPad 2 was introduced by Steve Jobs in one of his masterful presentations. That immediately sucked the air out of the room for Motorola, and the press nearly forgot they had introduced the “iPad killer” running Google’s new HoneyComb tablet OS.  

Motorola got an exclusive from Google for a while on selling HoneyComb devices and that actually protected other slate computer makers from problems with the new HoneyComb OS, which hobbled Xoom. Immature operating systems are notorious for crashing and having issues that have to be worked out. HoneyComb will become more stable with each release, but the damage to Xoom will already have been done.

While the Android OS has gained remarkable traction in the smartphone market, the tablet computer platform isn’t going as well for them so far. Android doesn’t scale up to tablets very well compared to Apple’s iOS. From what I read. HoneyComb tends to crash a lot, and Google is pretty distracted by the smart phone market.  

Developers in the Android world are crying the blues over serious fragmentation of the market with numerous app stores, incompatible Android OS versions and piracy of up to 90% of the market. Why even bother to build pay for use apps for Android when only 10% of users are going to pay you? Developers aren’t stupid. Despite the aggravations developers have with Apple’s firm hand on its app store, they run a tight ship, Apple pays like a slot machine and piracy is almost unknown.

Developing apps for Apple’s iOS is more likely to pay off and developers are finding that the Android, PlayBook, Symbian, Windows 7 and the Palm OS platforms all have problems Apple has solved. While the public looks at individual apps, developers are looking at platform support in the form of developer tools, app store infrastructure and the money they can expect to collect.

That’s Greg’s Bite for today.

(Greg Mills is currently a graphic and Faux Wall Artist in Kansas City. Formerly a new product R&D man for the paint sundry market, he holds 11 US patents. Greg is an Extra Class Ham Radio Operator, AB6SF, iOS developer and web site designer. He’s also working on a solar energy startup using a patent pending process for turning waste dual pane glass window units into thermal solar panels used to heat water see: www.CottageIndustySolar.com Married, with one daughter, Greg writes for intellectual property web sites and on Mac/Tech related issues. See Greg’s art web site at http://www.gregmills.info He can be emailed at gregmills@mac.com )

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