Technology & Science

RIM co-CEO in spotlight as PlayBook launches

Research in Motion co-CEO Mike Lazaridis was in the spotlight this week, expressing frustration during media interviews, ahead of the launch of the Canadian company's BlackBerry PlayBook tablet.

Initial reviews for tablet generally not good

Canada's Research in Motion previewed its PlayBook tablet in New York Thursday, and is desperate for favourable reviews 2:21

Research in Motion co-CEO Mike Lazaridis was in the spotlight this week, expressing frustration during a couple of media interviews, ahead of the launch of the Canadian company's BlackBerry PlayBook tablet.

Lazaridis made headlines after he abruptly ended a video interview with the BBC, calling a reporter's questions "unfair."

The Waterloo, Ont., company's launch party for the PlayBook — the first attempt by RIM to diversify outside the smartphone market — was in New York on Thursday. 

The tablet is scheduled to hit U.S. and Canadian stores on Tuesday.

The BlackBerry PlayBook tablet is displayed at CES in Las Vegas. The device will be in North American stores on Tuesday. (Steve Marcus/Reuters)
The video of Lazaridis's exchange with reporter Rory Cellan-Jones was posted on the BBC's dot.Rory technology blog just a day before the launch event.

Cellan-Jones was asking Lazaridis whether RIM has solved its problems in a number of Middle Eastern and Asian countries, where authorities threatened last summer to ban or block BlackBerry smartphones.

"It's over. Interview's over. That's just not fair," Lazaridis said while shaking his head, before demanding that the camera be turned off.

BlackBerry PlayBook

The BlackBerry PlayBook tablet will have a seven-inch screen and WiFi capability. It will have its own operating system, but will also run Android apps. Three models will be available, featuring 16, 32 and 64 gigabytes of storage capacity, and ranging from $499 to $699. The device will be sold at Best Buy and Future Shop stores in Canada starting Tuesday.

The United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, India, Lebanon and Algeria all say they have security concerns about the devices, which encrypt data to meet businesses' need for corporate data security.

CBC's Scott Peterson said Lazaridis may be an engineering genius, but his sales skills "may be a little bit lacking."

"Really, you can take away from this, Here is a guy under a lot of pressure," Peterson said. "His own heart is invested in this company, in this invention."

Peterson noted that the company must play catch-up to the dominant player in the market, the Apple iPad, which launched its second version on March 11.

Early reviews

A number of reviewers were given early access to the BlackBerry PlayBook. 

For a review of the PlayBook and a round-up of comments by reviewers, click here.

While reviews had good things to say about the PlayBook's hardware, its Flash-able web browser and slick interface, most were largely negative and focused on features still not available.

RIM sent out multiple software updates for the PlayBook while reviewers were assessing it and most reviewers indicated there's hope for the device, once it's in a truly finished state.

A handful of critical apps, including those for email, BlackBerry Messenger and contacts, only appear on the PlayBook when a wireless link is established with a BlackBerry.

Some reviewers also claimed that battery life didn't fully live up to RIM's stated maximum of 10 hours, particularly when playing a lot of video.

Most reviews noted the lack of PlayBook apps available out of the gate. RIM has said the PlayBook will eventually run some Android apps, which is promising, wrote Engadget reviewer Tim Stevens.

"The ability to run Android apps could totally change the game or it could be a non-event. We won't know until RIM flips the switch and lets us all try it out."

-The Canadian Press

"It's almost in a sense a do or die for BlackBerry, staying relevant, staying up to date," Peterson added.

Craig McLennan, RIM's managing director for North America, played it cool in an interview with CBC News this week.

"We've been concentrating heavily on bringing the right product to the right market at the right time," he said when asked why it took his company so long to come out with the PlayBook. "We're in a very, very good place right now."

Balsillie defends company

In an interview with the New York Times, RIM's other CEO, Jim Balsillie, defended the company against a suggestion it was ill-prepared for market changes. But he also acknowledged it is difficult for companies to make the transition to a new platform, and few other than Apple have succeeded.

"It’s way harder than you realize," he said. "This transition is where tech companies go to die."

The BBC interview wasn't the first hint that Lazaridis might be feeling under pressure this week. In another interview, with the Times on Monday, he vented his frustrations about his company's sagging share price.

"Why is it that people don't appreciate our profits? Why is it that people don't appreciate our growth? Why is it that people don't appreciate the fact that we spent the last four years going global? Why is it that people don't appreciate that we have 500 carriers in 170 countries with products in almost 30 languages?… I don't fully understand why there's this negative sentiment."

With files from The Canadian Press