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Why BlackBerry Killed the PlayBook

By July 2, 2013BlackBerry
playbook_killedRIM

In short: BlackBerry 10

During 2010, RIM purchased QNX from Harman International, they [QNX] would quickly begin work on the next generation software platform for their resilient new buyer BlackBerry. 2 years of obituaries, and yet here we are in BlackBerry’s first fiscal quarter for 2013.

The QNX 6.5 Neutrino is the latest publicly available Neutrino version from the wholly owned BlackBerry subsidiary. While older versions of the kernel run in numerous systems, the markets of healthcare and automotive are where QNX foresaw the next big growth, and BlackBerry has taken on that sight vicariously.

The 6.5.5 Neutrino running your PlayBook is essentially the same operating system they were putting into millions of vehicles with their initial version of the CAR Platform which launched in 2009. It worked and behaved much like an infotainment display. Reliably–great multitasking, but damn were those Adobe Air apps sluggish and slowed down a relatively nimble tablet . Essentially the fabulous tablet that the PlayBook is would be shunned due to poor execution from RIM into a marketplace riding the craze of the iPad. It was tumultuous to say the least. This neutrino version was not designed from the ground up for the PlayBook–it was retrofitted for the PlayBook.

Between the time leading up to the BlackBerry 10 launch, BlackBerry let slip that a new neutrino would be underneath BlackBerry 10, QNX Neutrino 8. And they were quick to take it off their developer site.


With the jump in underlying kernel from 6.5.5-8.0, it is readily apparent that the new platform was too much for PlayBook to keep up with. While BB10 base specs suggest a necessity for 2GB of ram–PlayBook only has 1. This is likely the fatal weakness that led BlackBerry to abandon their attempts to bring BB10 to PlayBook.

BB10 on PlayBook implies more than just an update for PlayBook. It leads the assumption that the entire OS, ecosystem and experience would be transposed to a widely unsuccessful tablet, and that it would follow some connected update schedule as the the rest of the OS would. To date, I don’t think they ever sold more than 3 million of them. I went through the earnings call and did the addition. Very, very few PlayBooks were ever sold, and BlackBerry probably did not want to fork their OS to support such a niche user base of diehard BlackBerry fans who’d want to be supported beyond just ‘PlayBook getting BB10.’

“Our teams have spent a great deal of time and energy looking at solutions that could move the Blackberry 10 experience to PlayBook. But unfortunately, I am not satisfied with the level of performance and user experience, and I made the difficult decision to stop these efforts and focus on our core hardware portfolio,” Heins said during the call.

With outdated specs on a ground up rebuild of their operating system, sacrifices had to be made. While they were very likely able to get some semblance of BB10 running on PlayBook, its specs could not keep up with the demands of the system as a whole, as with the Dev A – it has 1GB of ram and doesn’t handle BB10 very well but it handles it, likely because the additional graphics processor on the Dev A.
Now sure, they could go back to the 6.5.5 Neutrino and build us some kind of update, but it’s to the benefit of so few people that their energy and efforts are better spent moving forward instead of looking back. BlackBerry 10 has already outsold PlayBook, and therefore to them it’s more important to focus on the new product portfolio.

Perhaps (and this is total speculation) Thorsten’s comments regarding the irrelevancy of tablets within the next 5 years was his lead to what he announced during the call. BlackBerry is “over” the PlayBook and while it’s a great tablet, especially when you can scoop them for under 150$ for a 64GB model, it’s not part of the future as BlackBerry sees it.

BlackBerry killed the PlayBook because the Playbook nearly killed them, symbolically the failed launch of PlayBook will go down in history as the nail in the coffin of Research in Motion. BlackBerry is simply the hammer. Thorsten has been open about mobile computing, it’s not just a buzzword. Think back to PlayBook and BBOS Bridge, which already allowed most of your phones communications to be handled on a second screen… the PlayBook tablet. However, the CEO understands that there are screens everywhere and the 7″ tab is not a large enough audience to entertain the true aim of this new platform.

The concept of modular computing was already in the testing stages way back when. Tablets have very little utility aside from being a larger screen. When the devices in our pockets are as powerful, or more, as a small laptop, the barriers between what you can do and what you can’t need to come down. Modular computing–mobile computing is the future as BlackBerry sees it.

So, you PlayBook owners out there – don’t feel soured just yet. While BB10 won’t be coming to PlayBook, it has not been totally abandoned. We could see an incremental update that brings some added features. The OS is already pretty great. Its multitasking method had been copped by Apple for iOS7 and the PlayBook still runs an Android Gingerbread runtime giving you some Android support on board as well. They have built BB10 on PlayBook, it just doesn’t run well on PlayBook. I expect we’ll see that UI next year, unless Santa is more prepared than insiders suggest.

BlackBerry killed PlayBook because they need to keep moving, simple as that. At BlackBerry Live, we heard that QNX Neutrino 10 would be released sometime this Fall. This is another departure pushing that old PlayBook out from the latest QNX fun. The pace in this industry is fierce. All I can say now is get ready for the A-Series. For those still nostalgic and in love with your PlayBook, or if you have NO idea what I’m talking about, watch this fan made mashup:

James Nieves

Author James Nieves

Manning the helm here @BBRYFLOW. Feel free to shoot me an email.

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  • king125

    Cascades is very graphic intensive framework so it requires a powerful gpu which the playbook lacks.

  • Yeah, I understand all the reasoning and I can’t really argue with their decision. But I’ll probably still be grumpy for another couple of weeks knowing that we’ll never get the best apps (Cascades), which I don’t think should really require any more RAM (I understand that the Browser, the Hub, a UI update, all would take more RAM).