commentary RIM's Blackberry PlayBook tablet is now on sale for $199 at Best Buy. A price it should have had all along.
Like Hewlett-Packard's ill-fated TouchPad, which stalled at $499 but became an instant hit at $99, the PlayBook is now seeing newfound popularity at $199 (16GB), discounted from $499.
In fact, the $199 BlackBerry tablet is now listed as "unavailable" at most Best Buy stores in the U.S. For example, a Best Buy in suburban Los Angeles said it had sold out of the $199 PlayBook "a couple of days ago," according to a sales representative, though the store had stock of the $299 (32GB) model.
Another suburban Los Angeles Best Buy was down to one 16GB model as of Wednesday night. Sales representatives at both stores said Best Buy would continue to sell at the discounted prices until all units are sold out.
Which brings us to the PlayBook's close cousin, the Amazon Kindle Fire. This, in essence, is a PlayBook minus the camera and a few connectors. Like the Fire, it's made by ODM (original design manufacturer) powerhouse Quanta, uses similar, if not the same, materials on the outside, the same screen, and the same Texas Instruments dual-core silicon inside.
Amazon was savvy enough to price it at $199 (8GB) from the get-go and design an interface that appeals to a wide audience right out of the box with just the right number of apps. (I've been using the Kindle Fire for about a week.)
Though the PlayBook's interface and apps are nothing to sneer at (I have PlayBook also), it was priced for too long at $499 and up, killing any chance for mass-market appeal.
And in the context of HP's $99 TouchPad, the PlayBook may be a harsh lesson for other tablet makers.
That lesson? With the exception of Apple's iPad, it will be increasingly difficult to sell a popular tablet for more than $400. The operative word here is "popular"--as in the iPad and Fire.
Motorola will likely sell its upcoming updates to the Android-based Xoom tablet at prices above $400. But my guess is that consumers won't buy these in numbers that rival those of the iPad or Fire, if recent history is any lesson.
That said, Google (slated to become Motorola's new owner) has the wherewithal to tinker with its business model, and Motorola under Google ownership will likely outlast, and prevail over, lesser companies that don't have the stomach to stick it out in the hypercompetitive Android tablet market.