RIM chiefs counter PlayBook tablet criticism ahead of launch

The co-chief executives of BlackBerry maker Research In Motion (NASDAQ:RIMM) beat back criticism from early, mostly negative reviews of the company's PlayBook tablet, arguing that the concerns were off the mark and did not take into account RIM's focus on core BlackBerry users. PlayBook reviewers blasted the gadget's lack of a native email client and cellular connectivity, as well as other shortcomings, noting the device appeared to have been rushed to market.

click here for a video review of the blackberry playbook"I don't think that's fair," RIM's Jim Balsillie said in a TV interview with Bloomberg Thursday, in response to speculation that the PlayBook is not yet ready for prime time. Reviewers have said their devices have received a number of major software updates in recent days--RIM has promised to address the lack of a native email client with a software update sometime this summer.

Mike Lazaridis, RIM's other co-CEO, said the company will make the PlayBook stand out because of its technology and its appeal to corporate users. In a separate interview with Bloomberg, he touted the tablet's ability to browse the Web and play videos simultaneously, as well its security features. "This is superior," he said. "It's far more portable, it's lighter in your hands, you can hold it for longer."

Another major criticism is the lack of apps for the PlayBook, which runs on software from QNX. RIM has said it will launch with 3,000 apps, although the PlayBook will be able to run applications for Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android platform. RIM has said it will launch two optional "app players" that provide an application run-time environment for BlackBerry Java apps and apps for version 2.3, or Gingerbread, of Android.

Balsillie was optimistic about the PlayBook. "I like our chances for a lot of share," he said. "We're very excited about where we are."

Still, analysts and reviewers were skeptical. "They have to give people a reason to buy this thing," Gartner analyst Michael Gartenberg told FierceWireless, adding: "You can't deliver stuff that's feature-rich but three-quarters unfinished."

Interestingly, market watchers have noted with concern the behavior of RIM's top executives. Lazaridis recently walked out of a BBC interview after being questioned about BlackBerry security concerns in India. And, during RIM's PlayBook launch, a stage had been erected for Lazaridis and Balsillie to make some public remarks, according to the Wall Street Journal, but they scrapped that plan and instead mingled with the crowd.

RIM will release a Wi-Fi-only version of the long-awaited tablet April 19 for a base price of $499, the same price as a comparable version of Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPad 2. Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ), AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) and Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) are expected to launch versions of the gadget this summer.

For more:
- see this Bloomberg article
- see this WSJ article (sub. req.)
- see this WSJ blog post (sub. req.)
- see this Reuters article
- see this AllThingsD article

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