Peter M Howard ::

On the PlayBook

09May2011 [myth]

In which no-one knows how to sell a future-device

I was never going to buy a PlayBook, especially given the reviews, but I'd like to see someone make a decent competitor to the iPad, if only to make Apple push harder. And I'm fascinated by the way these future-devices are marketed to people. Apple's advertising is all about the magic, and about the user. Competitors either try mimic this touch, and miss some crucial detail (like the Windows Phone ads that suggested people were engrossed in their phones just because they were difficult), or try too hard to compare themselves to Apple, try to out-spec them.

Tonight was BlackBerry's opportunity. At MoMoSyd, they were presenting to an audience who self-identified as interested in mobile devices, people who knew the PlayBook would be presented and came along to see the shiny young upstart. It was the first time the PlayBook's been seen in Australia. And they blew the opportunity.

The first slide up was the hardware specs, in text so small I couldn't read it from the back of the room. And it was down-hill from there. Nothing showing the device itself. Nothing about how I might use it. Ok, there was one slide about the "user experience", but again, it was so crowded with text I couldn't see what it offered. If a special insider preview slide deck can't figure out what the couple of key bullet-points are about the user experience of the thing, how's an ordinary user supposed to know? Even Apple didn't really know what the iPad would be used for at first, but they still showed it to us, put its potential in front of us to let us work that out for ourselves.

Then they tried selling it as an "accessory", labouring under some assumption that their customers had BlackBerries already. Never mind that nearly everyone in the room ran an iPhone or Android phone. It got better when the presenter said "our marketing department tells us it's an 'internet device' [but] I don't know that internet's the right word". Then in closing he tries to tell us that RIM are after both the enterprise and the consumer market with this thing ("that dividing line [between consumer and enterprise] is no longer there"). Not sure what they think consumers do on their hypothetical Internet devices if they're not checking their email. I got the distinct impression their target market is the aging CIO who's jealous of the iOS devices but is unwilling to give up his BlackBerry, or let any of those iOS devices into his corporate network.

So I barely got to see the device itself, and I can't really make any call on its actual potential. But if the launch is anything to go by, I'm counting the PlayBook out right now. RIM's own message is so cluttered and confused that I can't see any ordinary user seeing the point of the device.

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