Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Want to know why Xoom and PlayBook are struggling? Watch their ads

It's well-known that sales of Motorola's Xoom Android tablet have been disappointing. RIM hasn't yet announced any sales figures for its PlayBook tablet, but the early word is that its sales are also very slow. If you want to know the reason for both products' struggles, all you have to do is look at their television ads and compare them to those from Apple for the iPad 2. I'm not talking about the "artistic" value of the ads--I'm talking about the content, and what that content says about the products.

Motorola and Verizon have two Xoom ads on U.S. television; the content of both are similar, but I'll focus on the more current version. It starts with a man with an angry/aroused look on his face, breaking a notebook computer into four parts, which turns into a Xoom. Then he holds the Xoom in front of himself, still with that angry/aroused look. The commercial switches to a close-up of the screen, and a hand moving quickly between a movie, mail, a game, a video call, another get the picture. Then, it finishes with Angry/Aroused Man holding the Xoom in front of himself again.

The PlayBook ad dispenses with Angry/Aroused Man--all it shows is a close-up of the screen and a hand moving between various windows: A movie. Some images. A game. Another movie. Yet another movie. And then, the PlayBook tagline. It doesn't show a single business-oriented application, not even email, even though that's RIM's strength.

Compare that with Apple's long-running campaign for the iPad, and now the iPad 2. Apple's commercials show apps. Every commercial shows a different set of apps, for education, entertainment, medicine, business and so on. And that's the key to why the iPad 2 continues to sell extremely well, and the Xoom and PlayBook are struggling.

Both Motorola and RIM released their products well before they were ready. In the Xoom's case, the Honeycomb version of Android itself was rushed out, and developers didn't have sufficient time to build tablet-aware apps. The PlayBook shipped without native email, calendar and directory apps. That functionality is supplied by a user's BlackBerry phone, but for whatever reason, RIM decided not to show it. (If you're not a BlackBerry user, the only way to get that functionality today on a PlayBook is with web applications.)

Apple focuses on all the different ways in which an iPad 2 can be used. Motorola and RIM, without the library of tablet apps that Apple has, are focusing on eye candy. Both companies appear to have approached the tablet market in much the same way as PC manufacturers approach the PC market: Their job is to supply good hardware. The operating system is taken care of by Microsoft, and the applications are taken care of by everyone else, so they focus on the hardware. Motorola and RIM, by and large, got the hardware right: Big, viewable displays, fast dual-core processors, front and back cameras, etc. RIM, with its QNX acquisition, got the operating system right, while Motorola relied on Google, which didn't quite get there with Honeycomb.

What neither Motorola nor RIM got right was the apps, and that's the point of differentiation for tablets. The lesson for tablet manufacturers: If all you can show in your television ads are movies and games, you're not ready to ship.

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