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BlackBerry Playbook: An everyman name, but does it miss the mark?

Posted by: John Kerswell on September 29, 2010

I’ve always thought Research in Motion had its finger on the pulse when it came to product naming. The name BlackBerry has to be one of my all-time favourites. How do you take a blocky business multi-channel communications device and make it stand out from a plethora of scientific sounding model numbers? You name it after a fruit.

But more than that, squint slightly at the product itself and you can see how all its tiny buttons, coupled with the curvature of the body, actually make it look like a real blackberry. Genius. Not only that, but when you think about how blackberries (the fruit) are all interconnected on a fast growing bramble with tentacles that reach far and wide you can see a real link to the product in use. Even the logo features an icon that’s a cross between the fruit, the product and the letter ‘B’. (No wonder the brand was one of this year's Best Global Brands top risers.)

As BlackBerry models evolved to appeal more to consumers as well as businessmen, the names shifted too. Descriptive names such as Curve (from the shape), Pearl (from the pearl-like joystick-nipple-thingy) made way for the Bold, Storm and Torch, each being more dramatic, brighter and dynamic than the last.

Which naturally brings me to the new BlackBerry tablet: the BlackBerry Playbook. Launched this week to much fanfare at Devcon in San Francisco, the term ‘iPad killer’ is being rolled out all over again. Yes, the product looks good. But what interested me most was the name.

The Playbook is billed, and likely to be priced, with business in mind, being touted as ‘the first professional tablet’ and ‘enterprise ready’. So it’s more than curious that the name focuses on ‘Play’, with one of the lead product images featuring a racing game. Also strange is the word ‘book’. Netbooks and notebooks have a natural link, as you are able to open and close both like a book. The iPad, with its soft covers is like a sketchpad. But how are the attributes of the Playbook like a book?

With ‘play’ either RIM is keeping its options open about its true target market, or it is trying to appeal to everyone at once. What it seems to have missed is how one of the true USP’s of the Playbook—multitasking and multiprocessing—links so naturally to the original idea behind the BlackBerry name: a collection of tiny drupelets which united, create a magnificent whole.

And then there's the fact that the name is not yet trademarked—while there's record of RIM filing 'Playbook' for trademark application on September 23 in Canada, it has yet to be filed elsewhere.

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