By MARTIN PEERS
It should be evident by now that a corporate tragedy is under way at the proud Canadian firmResearch In Motion.
The manner in which the firm has now squandered the early technological lead and brand recognition it had in BlackBerry mobile-email devices is astonishing. Take its PlayBook tablet, unveiled six months ago but only going on sale next month, weeks after the second version ofApple's iPad hit store shelves.
Despite being behind Apple, the first version of the PlayBook won't have cellular capability. Users will be able to use WiFi for Web access. But even then, users will need to connect the Playbook to their BlackBerry to read email delivered from BlackBerry servers. RIM is planning to add cell capability in future versions, which also could cause some potential buyers to wait.
Yet this is the device that RIM co-CEO Jim Balsillie says "may well be the most significant development for RIM" since the first BlackBerry was launched in 1999. Tellingly, Mr. Balsillie had started to say it "will be the most significant development" but corrected himself, perhaps realizing the hole he was digging himself into.
RIM doesn't seem to expect a blowout launch. It projects May quarter revenue to grow 24% to 33%, based on expectations of early PlayBook sales and a 21% to 29% increase in BlackBerry shipments. That guidance also reflects a change in the mix of handsets toward lower-priced devices like the Curve 8520. Worryingly, RIM made a similar statement a year ago about the 8520, now a nearly two-year-old pre-3G device.
Perhaps the company should be called Research In Slow Motion.
Write to Martin Peers at email@example.com