RIM’s 4G LTE BlackBerry PlayBook Has Arrived. And Yes, It’s Atrociously Overpriced

As of today, Research In Motion’s new 4G-enabled BlackBerry PlayBook is now available for sale in Canada through Rogers, Telus, or Bell.

Prices were rumoured but I opted not to believe them as they were ludicrously high: $550 outright, or $350 on a three-year contact (!). Turns out, these numbers are in fact accurate.

Granted, this tablet should command a higher price than its original counterpart: it has modestly improved specs, such as a 1.5GHz dual-core processor, and of course it runs on LTE, not just wifi. But a lot remains unchanged: its screen is low-resolution, its dual cameras both suck, and it’s still a seven-inch device.

Seven-inch tablets start at around $199 in today’s marketplace—including the wifi PlayBook. RIM’s 32GB model (that’s what the 4G is) runs for as little as $229 right now. So the markup for 4G, apparently, is more than $300—or well over double the price. I can’t imagine anyone justifying that price difference.

Apple, who has thus far set the standards for most things consumer tablet, marks up its data-enabled devices by $100. And that’s for prices between $500 and $700. In a range of $200 to $300, the markup should theoretically be even smaller—perhaps $50 to $75.

But what’s even more insulting than the outright price of the 4G PlayBook is the contract pricing. Canadians are well aware that three-year contacts are horrendously unfair to consumers (even in the US, contracts are a maximum of two years). But at least we get decent subsidization, saving up to $400 on devices. But to lock one’s self in for three years to save a measly $200? It’s offensive to customers—and the BlackBerry faithful especially—plain and simple.

The saddest thing about this awful pricing scheme is that RIM hasn’t learned from its mistakes. It originally priced the PlayBook at $500, the same as the iPad, before dropping its price multiple times until it settled at $200—a 60% discount. Even at that price point, the PlayBook has struggled to ship barely one million units per year, a tiny fraction of Apple’s iPad sales.

So how could RIM observe this recent history and not price its new device competitively? At $550, RIM honestly may as well have not even launched the device. There was minimal hype for it, and unless it gets a substantial price drop in the near future, it’s safe to consider the 4G PlayBook DOA.