Who Is Research In Motion's PlayBook For?

Long considered one of the few tablets that might be able to compete with Apple's iPad (even before anybody laid eyes on it), Research in Motion has finally confirmed that the PlayBook will go on sale starting April 19. Investors are obviously happy with the announcement: Shares of RIM (RIMM) jumped 0.6 percent this morning. But who do they think is going to buy the tablet, which will be sold in more than 20,000 retail outlets across the United States and Canada, when it's made available?

It's unclear if RIM even has a target market. "The product launch has been clouded by confusion among some mobile-market watchers over the PlayBook's intended market," according to the Wall Street Journal's report on the tablet's launch date. "RIM has consistently stressed the PlayBook's usefulness to businesses and its potential popularity among corporate technology officers -- even as it shows off the tablet's ability to play videogames and movies in demonstrations."

With a 7-inch screen, the PlayBook is slightly smaller than the iPad, but has some familiar features: Wi-Fi, front- and rear-facing high-definition cameras, etc. It's also priced to compete with Apple's tablet. Three versions of the PlayBook will be available at launch: A 16 gigabyte model for $499, a 32GB model for $599 and a 64GB model for $699 -- or, the exact some prices that the three different models of  iPad 2 with Wi-Fi are currently selling for in the Apple Store.

But RIM isn't successful because it has followed Apple's lead. It's successful because the BlackBerry, RIM's celebrated smartphone, has always been a true alternative to Apple's iPhone that is seen as more professional, more fitting for executives. The BlackBerry is not just another iPhone in different packaging. The question is no longer whether or not you should buy a smartphone; it's whether you should get an iPhone or a BlackBerry. Because, despite the fact that both phones are just that -- phones -- they offer different features and they've been successfully marketed to two different audiences.

With Apple (and its CEO, Steve Jobs) in and out of the news for various reasons, you might think that the iPhone dominates the smartphone market. But here in the United States, Apple's iPhone OS controls only 27 percent. RIM's BlackBerry OS controls another 27 percent, according to Nielsen. (Android OS beats both, with 29 percent market share.) Providing a different product has worked. I even know some people who have both an iPhone and a BlackBerry.

By advertising videos and games and going after Apple's market, instead of carving its own among business executives and big market power players (think Manhattan and Chicago's Financial District), RIM is going to spend unnecessary dollars pushing its new tablet to a group of individuals who probably already have one -- or have made up their mind about which they're going to get. And it's not a PlayBook. In the process, they risk confusing potential customers.