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Blackberry Playbook: A Confusing Message

Over the past few months I have been carefully following the news and reviews about Blackberry’s new tablet, the Playbook. I’m not exactly sure why, but something about Blackberry has sparked my interest lately. (Basically, I think their future is looking disastrous… but that’s a topic for another day.) I’ve been surprised by the significant amount of advertising that Blackberry has been rolling out for the Playbook. I’ve seen tons of internet ads, and A LOT of Playbook ads during the NHL Playoffs as well. Blackberry has been running a few different ads, and each seems to have a slightly different marketing message. Is this for college kids? Gamers? Business Exectives? Email junkies?

One of the ads that really irks me is this “Power” ad that has been running on TV lately. The tag line is: “The new Blackberry Playbook, it runs all of this… at the same time.” The video starts off by showing a Thor movie (trailer?) and then the user multitasks to a racing game, and then to a music video, and finally to a snowboard movie. I’ve seen demos of the Playbook before, and it is quite impressive that it’s able to stream all of those things at once. Don’t get me wrong. But, what I don’t understand is why a customer would want/need to do this. You can only watch a single video stream at a time… why would you want other 1080p videos to be running in the background on your tablet? What does this do to the battery life? Here’s the commercial:

Another example of the confusing marketing messages is this screenshot from the Playbook’s homepage. The tag line here is: “The world’s first professional-grade tablet.”

I’m not at all surprised that Blackberry is pitching this as a professional-grade, enterprise tablet. These are the type of users I would expect to be buying a Blackberry tablet. IT departments are looking to Blackberry to provide a tablet that integrates well into their existing security standards and presumably all of the Blackberry smartphones they have. However, this message becomes confusing when you pair it up with all of the other messages and ads showing the Playbook primarily as a media consumption device. Users are shown watching music videos and playing games, not banging out emails or working on PowerPoint presentations. It’s going to be hard for enterprise users to take this thing seriously.

Essentially, it all comes down to the fundamentals. A tablet commercial needs to convince people why they need the device. What does it do better than their laptop or smartphone? I don’t think that the Playbook commercials are really accomplishing this. “Look you can play 4 videos at once!!”. Great. But why? I don’t think the casual consumer cares about this.

Finally, let’s take a look at the Playbook’s biggest competitor, the iPad 2. What does the latest iPad commercial convey? The commercial directly addresses 6 different types of people/professions: parents, musicians, doctors, CEOs, teachers, and children. In the thirty second ad spot, Apple shows an example of a third party application which demonstrates the iPad’s capabilities for that type of person. This allows the iPad to appeal directly to millions of people who are able to closely relate to the demo. They’re hopefully thinking “Wow, I can definitely see myself doing that if I had an iPad.”

This is the emotional appeal that Apple marketing is so good at. They’re able to get down to the fundamentals and show people why they need the device.


Comment from Rob Retchless
Time May 10, 2011 at 12:11 pm

Multitasking, enterprise use-cases and media playback are the 3 things that the Playbook absolutely nailed, yet these are the 3 things that you criticize for no reason (other than the fact that the commercial “irks” you :). If you’re going to trash the Playbook, at least talk about the stuff that’s actually negative. Like the lack of key apps like Dropbox, Skype, Angry Birds, XBMC and Remote Desktop. Or the fact that it doesn’t support LEAP. Or the fact that I can’t browse network shares over wi-fi.

> “The new Blackberry Playbook, it runs all of this… at the same time … But, what I don’t understand is why a customer would want/need to do this.”

Let me give you an example! The other night, I was using my Playbook to play a playlist of music videos off Youtube, while using the poker timer app, while messing around in blackberry app world downloading some new apps, while periodically looking stuff up in the browser, and dashing in an out of a game of Pixelated (obviously I had already lost all of my poker chips). On an iOS device, Steve Jobs apparently knows what I want to do with the device better than I do, so I would be prevented from putting a video and a running poker timer in the background while doing other things.

> “Users are shown watching music videos and playing games, not banging out emails or working on PowerPoint presentations. It’s going to be hard for enterprise users to take this thing seriously.”

I don’t follow. How does a device that does an excellent job handling intense multimedia tasks undermine an enterprise user’s ability to get things done? I don’t want a $500 powerpoint machine that’s useless as soon as I leave the office. Work hard, play hard. Leave the enterprise marketing message for the quarterly report. :)

> “This is the emotional appeal that Apple marketing is so good at.”

Fanboy. At least I was able to watch those embedded flash videos on my Playbook without leaving the browser. And my battery still lasted 12 hours. :)

Comment from Jason Wagner
Time May 10, 2011 at 5:34 pm

Humm, I think you missed the overall point of the post. My intention was not to trash the Playbook, but only to question the specific features of the Playbook that Blackberry decided to showcase in their expensive TV ads. (Not that the Playbook doesn’t have all sorts of issues… a few of which you listed; but that was not the point of this post.)

I completely understand your point about multitasking being an important feature (and a well done feature, in fact). But, I disagree with the scenario that they use to demonstrate it’s multitasking capabilities. Instead of showing multiple videos/games going on at once, they should have used music, web browsing, calendar, chat, etc. Things that users normally do at the same time. I don’t know about you, but I’m never watching two videos simultaneously. It would have been a good chance to show off some of it’s enterprise features as well as it’s multitasking prowess. The point of the “Power” commercial seemed to be “look how powerful our tablet is because it can do all of these CPU intensive things at once”.

Here is another commercial for the Playbook that does a much better job of showing off the multitasking aspects:

(What’s with that lag right before the surfing video, though? Should have edited that out.)

Comment from Rob Retchless
Time May 10, 2011 at 5:58 pm

Regarding the lag right before the surfing video: there are three multitasking modes on the Playbook. That video was taken in default mode, which pauses background applications when other applications are in full screen mode. The lag is just the app waking up once it receives focus. I prefer to run my Playbook in showcase mode, which keeps all apps running in the background.

I admit that I didn’t really confront the topic of your post head-on. I’m just annoyed at how much negative criticism this device is getting, even though it really is quite incredible. I also have a very sensitive bullshit meter when it comes to Apple fanboy rhetoric… i.e. Multitasking isn’t important, who needs flash, multitasking + flash = crappy battery life… all bogus.

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