RIM’s Efforts To Entice Android Developers With Free PlayBooks Reeks Of Desperation

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RIM's BlackBerry PlayBook
RIM's BlackBerry PlayBook

It’s no secret that RIM’s attempt to create an iPad-killer with its PlayBook tablet didn’t deliver a success. In a move that was common of last year’s parade of iPad competitors, the PlayBook shipped almost as a public beta with core functionality like a native email app missing from the device. The PlayBook’s dismal sales haven’t exactly inspired positive reactions from developers, which could signal the death of not just RIM’s tablet but also future smartphones based on the QNX operating system that powers the PlayBook.

In a desperate attempt to build up a developer community, RIM has turned to an unlikely source: Android developers. The company has already developed tools that allow Android apps to be ported with relative ease to the PlayBook, but interest hasn’t exactly been high. Now, the company is hoping to entice more developers by offering a free PlayBook.

This approach reeks of desperation and effectively illustrates the depth of RIM’s problems. It’s a stark contrast to Apple’s relationship with iOS developers. Apple has never had a problem attracting developers to iOS. Certainly Apple hasn’t had to resort to practically bribing them.

But RIM isn’t the only company to resort to dangling freebies in an effort to create an app ecosystem. Microsoft was known to be paying developers to create or port apps before its Windows Phone launch. HP offered free Pre2 handsets to encourage webOS developers. Of course, neither of those attempts paid off in a big way. Though Windows Phone faired better than webOS.

This certainly makes it clear that RIM realizes that it’s in trouble and that it knows it needs app developers to survive. The big question is – will this help at all?

One of RIM’s big problems is that it missed the app bandwagon and no longer has a clear audience. Despite its run as the top dog in business, RIM seems to be almost giving up and focusing on a youth-centric model. Those are two completely opposite markets and RIM really isn’t doing all that well in either of them.

Tie that to this free stuff for any Android app idea, and it’s a crap shoot as to what collection of apps you’ll get. If RIM ends up with mostly media and gaming apps, it’ll seem like a joke to business. If it doesn’t get anything by staid business apps, then it misses out on the consumer market. With consumers also beginning to dictate the devices they use at work, that could be an even worse defeat.

All in all, it’s hard to see this as anything but a confirmation that RIM completely lost touch with technology in both consumer and business spheres. That made it easy for Apple to disrupt RIM’s entire business model.

And at the end of the day, is a free tablet RIM has had to repeatedly mark down to generate sales going to be enough to encourage a broad range of developers to drop everything and port their apps for that tablet? Time will tell, but if I were a RIM executive, I wouldn’t hold my breath.