updated 12:30 pm EDT, Fri September 30, 2011
RIM divided on PlayBook focus on home, pro users
RIM had an large internal rift over how it would pitch the BlackBerry PlayBook, executives slipped out on Friday. Traditionalists at the company, such as co-CEO Mike Lazaridis, wanted to sell the tablet as a business companion, the WSJ heard. Rivals, however, wanted it to more directly chase after the iPad and focus on games, movies, music, breaking out of RIM's usual mold.
The company had been committed enough to the professional route that it had drafted a "Go Pro" campaign with its ad agency and planned to use New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady as one of the spokespeople. Enough disagreement existed, however, that the company dropped the project and the agency. The March exit of Keith Pardy, its chief marketing officer, may have been connected to the division.
Among the problems Pardy was trying to combat was RIM's alleged obsession with marketing hardware specifications and solely around the products, a problem not unique to RIM but potentially more acute. "Hundreds" of pitches were made that were rejected, one executive said.
Some traces of the split are visible in the company's marketing. Although it regularly emphasizes video and other features, the marketing campaign has often proclaimed that the PlayBook is "professional grade" and that "amateur hour is over." For many, the statements are considered ironic given that the device was rushed to market without native e-mail or calendars and isn't considered fit for business by some of those tracking its sales.
The company has regularly been accused in the past of being reluctant to acknowledge that the mobile market had shifted away from the corporate-heavy focus from before the iPhone in 2007. Along with being slower to adapt its sales, much of its public attitude has been detached. RIM's executives have sometimes been chastised for regularly referring to carriers and corporations as its customers, not actual end users, reflecting a difference in philosophy with Apple and Google.
Supporting earlier tips, informants said Lazaridis was reluctant to acknowledge any need for now commonplace non-work features such as cameras and music playback. Sprint, still one of its more loyal partners, has been worried that RIM wasn't keeping pace with what the public wanted.
Some signs are emerging that the company is learning to change its strategy. Phones unveiled this year, like the BlackBerry Bold 9900, are finally competitive in performance and have media features that other platforms have had for years, such as 3D gaming and HD video. RIM also plans a PlayBook 2.0 makeover that will finish the OS and add a movie service. Next year, it plans to unveil its first phone based on the same basic QNX roots as the PlayBook and should get a device with much more capable multitasking and media features as a result.
In the meantime, RIM is currently facing one of the bleakest sales periods in recent history. The sales results for BlackBerry 7 devices like the Bold 9900 and Torch 9860 are still pending. With just 200,000 PlayBooks sold and a steep drop in BlackBerry phone sales, once-new Apple now ships roughly twice as many smartphones and 23 times as many tablets. Android isn't faring well in tablets but has an even larger collective share than Apple in phones.