Better Late Than Never: RIM Preps Refreshed PlayBook With 4G

The BlackBerry PlayBook is about to get the gift of 4G. That is of course if a random leaked image and FCC documents are believed. And why not? Even though the PlayBook is almost a year old, RIM is actually selling more now than ever.

The PlayBook is a fine tablet. The OS is competent and slick. It packs all the standard BlackBerry apps and functions. Much as the iPad is a great iPhone companion, the PlayBook should be the BlackBerry user’s tablet of choice. The PlayBook is a fine tablet now. But it didn’t launch that way.

The PlayBook launched last April to rough reviews. Common issues cited were the buggy OS, lack of 3rd party apps, and, strangely, RIM failed to include a calendar, email, and BBM functions. The tablet went nowhere and launched with a thud. It wasn’t until a drastic price cut and the addition of these missing features some seven months post launch that the PlayBook started moving. RIM saw a five fold increase in PlayBook sales last quarter.

A 4G PlayBook makes sense in a strange way. RIM built the PlayBook to work tightly with its enterprise platform. In theory the PlayBook should work superior to the iPad in a corporate environment. Since RIM is actually now managing to sell PlayBooks, a 4G version should make traveling shower hook salesmen rather happy, since it can remotely dial the home intranet without relying on WiFi. Sure, these people might want an iPad, but IT departments can buy two PlayBooks for the price of one iPad and these tablets can be managed alongside the company’s existing BlackBerrys.

Unfortunately a 4G PlayBook would flop in the consumer market like its WiFi brother. Even if it’s priced aggressively, the PlayBook lacks the sex appeal, and more importantly, the sheer amount of functions found on the iPad. Consumers looking for a cheap tablet will still look at the Kindle Fire or perhaps the rumored Google Nexus Tablet.

RIM will likely launch the PlayBook the first week of May at its yearly BlackBerry World conference. The company needs to have a strong showing and a 4G PlayBook shows RIM is at least moving albeit rather slowly. If RIM is to recover, they need to get products on the market in a timely and complete fashion; that’s very clear. However, the company also needs to protect its revenue streams, and refreshing an old tablet with a relatively inexpensive addition like a 4G radio is a smart way to exploit the new demand and those still afflicted with the crackberry addiction.