news Online retailers have started heavily discounting Research in Motion’s BlackBerry PlayBook tablet, taking up to two thirds off the unpopular tablet’s price a year after it launched in Australia to a lack interest from local consumers and business customers.
Featuring a 1GHz dual-core processor, 1GB RAM and up to 64GB internal storage, the PlayBook had similar specifications to a number of other tablets available and launching in the Australian market when it launched locally in June last year. It featured a 7″ touchscreen, smaller than the 10″ screens used by Apple’s market dominating iPad and most Android tablets, but the same size as Google’s popular Nexus 7 tablet and Amazon’s similarly popular Kindle Fire model.
At the time, the tablet received a great deal of support from RIM in Australia, with the tablet to launch through all of Australia’s major mobile carriers as well as retailer Harvey Norman in three different models. The PlayBook was selling locally for prices starting from $579 for the entry level model, although it was typically bundled into mobile phone plans with BlackBerry handsets.
However, since that time the PlayBook failed to make a mark on the Australian market, and retailers have started discounting it dramatically. Today, for example, online retailer Unique Mobiles put a batch of PlayBooks up for sale for $179, including free delivery — a discount of 70 percent off the price of the tablets when they launched locally a year ago. This discount was first reported by Gizmodo.
The models are brand new — factory sealed — and come with a warranty, but even the retailer’s normal non-sale PlayBook prices are low — just $225.
Delimiter’s review of the PlayBook found that the tablet had solid hardware but was let down by its undeveloped software, with Research in Motion’s QNX operating system unable to support accessing email natively and lacking core third-party applications such as Twitter, DropBox, Amazon Kindle or Skype which are commonly used on Apple’s iPad and other popular tablet models.
Delimiter reviewer Jenneth Orantia wrote at the time: “RIM has promised updates this year that will add native email and PIM apps, as well as a unique Android “app player” that that will enable the PlayBook to run Android 2.3 apps released through BlackBerry App World in a virtual run-time environment. If RIM had offered these features from the start, we could’ve been looking at a homerun for the PlayBook. As it stands, however, it’s simply a tablet with a lot of potential, and unfortunately for RIM, potential doesn’t sell nearly as well as an Apple logo. Using the PlayBook is like driving a swanky sportscar that can only travel a couple of blocks. Impressive, yes, but too limited to be useful.”
The new discounts on the PlayBook are not the first to be levied on the tablet over the past year. In December, for example, Optus announced attractive deals with the release of the BlackBerry Torch 9860 that saw customers buying the smartphone on the $49 Optus cap (or above) receive a free PlayBook.
In the week before the deal, RIM in the US announced a write-down of the cost of the 16GB PlayBook to US$199. Locally, however, RIM’s then-Australian chief Adele Beachley stated (according to ZDNet) that Research in Motion would rather offer deals on the PlayBook to boost flagging sales, than reduce the local recommended retail price.
In Australia, research shows that Apple’s iPad continues to overwhelmingly dominate the local tablet market. Research published by analyst house Telsyte in February revealed that Apple sold about one million iPads in Australia in 2011, representing around 76 percent of the total local market for the new burgeoning tablet category. Other estimates have placed Apple’s market share as high as 80 or even 90 percent, with other players using the such as Samsung, Acer, Toshiba, Motorola and others failing to make much of a dint in Apple’s local market share despite launching around a dozen new tablets in Australia over the past several years. Earlier research published in December 2011 by IDC also showed Android tablet growth slowing.
The PlayBook is not the only tablet to flop and have its price severely marked down in Australia. In August 2011, for example, retail giant Harvey Norman dramatically slashed prices on HP’s discontinued TouchPad tablet from $499 to $99 for the 16GB model, and from $599 to $148 for the 32GB model, mimicking a global liquidation of the limited remaining stock of the device after HP sealed the line’s fate and instantly creating huge demand for the TouchPads in Australia.
It seems pretty clear at this point that the PlayBook has failed in Australia. The only real question is how widespread this kind of discounting behaviour is, and how cheap the tablet will get before stocks run out. In hindsight, it may not have been a fantastic idea for Research in Motion to launch a tablet without email support. Supporting email has kind of been the company’s core mission over the years. We’re sure Apple laughed pretty heavily about that one.
Image credit: Research in Motion