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The Two Stooges: How AT&T (Further) Undercut RIM's Tablet

Research in Motion (RIM) has taken plenty of heat for the half-baked nature of its first PlayBook release -- a tablet that can't deliver email unless it's connected to a BlackBerry smartphone. And now there's a new problem: AT&T (T), one of the three U.S. carriers that sell the PlayBook, has blocked the tethering that the device needs. And that underscores how strategically and tactically clueless RIM has become.

That AT&T has an unquenchable desire for more revenue is no news. If the company could find a way to institute mandatory income tithing on the part of customers, it would. Tethering has been a contentious issue for a while at AT&T because -- mercy! -- customers use their phone connections for data without paying the company even more for the privilege. So, starting last month, AT&T began sending warning messages to those using free tethering.

There is no way that RIM could have missed the tethering issue. Even back last November, people wondered if wireless carriers would charge for PlayBook tethering. The only way executives could have run into this blindly would have been to close their eyes to the rest of the world and make plans in a bubble.

In fact, company co-CEO Jim Balsillie has said that native email support is coming for the PlayBook within a couple of months. Well, that didn't take long. Guess that strategy isn't working out for them at all. Announcing plans for a standalone email app is the first sensible thing that either he or co-CEO Mike Lazaridis has said publicly since the product came out.

RIM must have channeled Palm in its strategic planning and marketing. That combination of cluelessness with the arrogance of the former market leader is distinctive. Only, Palm didn't seem to wander in a haze, unaware of what its carrier partners would forbid from their networks.

Even though RIM continues to expand its sales, such a series of mistakes should be disturbing and raises the question of whether Balsillie and Lazaridis can continue to effectively lead the company where it needs to go.

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