ÜberTech

The BlackBerry PlayBook was Overrated. Now it's Underrated Again.

Summary:Despite the avalanche of negative reviews, the PlayBook is actually a pretty decent device for at least eleven reasons, as tablet-watchers are starting to point out.

RIM won the first round with the PlayBook: generating huge pre-release interest among tech's chattering classes for its tablet.

With moves such as promising Android compatibility and claiming that "many corporate clients have approached us about each wanting tens of thousands, several tens of thousands of PlayBooks", it whipped up expectations that no company except one with the address One Infinite Loop could have possibly matched.

So it was no surprise that the reviews for the PlayBook were on the whole so negative.

"Mossberg's review of RIM tablet is devastating. We are seeing another decline and fall of tech powerhouse a la Wang, DEC, Palm and others," acidly tweeted Alan Meckler, former dot-com publisher (Internet World), only one of the many attempting to start feasting on the carcass of RIM.

This is premature prognostication for the sake of being first. RIM is no Nokia, a company with seriously declining profits due to its serious smartphone problem. Nor is it even Cisco with its Flip, a market leader in a shrinking industry. RIM is a $20 billion-a-year company  that ships 15 million smartphones a quarter and reaps about $1 billion in net profit per quarter.

What's happening is that PlayBook was underrated (iPad SMASH ALL!), then became overrated (Flash-enabled PlayBook = automatic sell to Fortune 500), and is now, with the help of bloggers/analysts/journos, back on the path to being properly rated by the public.

This overrated/underrated/properly-rated cycle, as my favorite blogger, ESPN's Bill Simmons deconstructs in this article about jock reputations, is so predictable it's cliche.

And it's already begun. Take this blog today from TechRepublic's editor, Jason Hiner. Hiner is a sharp guy whose opinion isn't solely a product of where we are on the news cycle.

He points out four important things that the PlayBook has going for it:

1) good included word processor (Dataviz's Docs to Go);

2) fast performance;

3) slick UI;

4) great Web surfing.

The PlayBook won't be as great as breathlessly predicted two months ago. But it won't be anywhere as terrible as the pundits have been saying this week.

What other things does the PlayBook have going for it? At least seven:

1) the best implementation of Adobe Flash on a tablet yet, according to both Hiner and Business Insider.

2) 7-inch form factor, which RIM's design chief compared to the iconic Moleskine leather notebooks favored by artistic types.

3) deep integration with the BlackBerry smartphone, which 60 million people worldwide carry. This is key because you can't do e-mail on a PlayBook without one (though a native e-mail app is coming).

4) its alignment with Google and Android. Cuz, you know, there are a lot of Apple haters out there.

5) a great reputation for security among IT administrators, a risk-averse lot if there ever was one (though, and take this however as you will, third-party solutions like Afaria from my employer Sybase can provide great, regulatory-compliant security for iPhones and Android devices, too.) Remember, IT admins still have budget and pull - lots of it , depending on the organization.

6) a tight, rock-solid operating system in QNX that makes the dual-core 1 GHz ARM chip hum.

7) savviness around little things that traveling business types appreciate. As Larry Dignan points out, there's the HDMI port that enables PowerPoints to display on the screen while you read your notes and thumbnails on the PlayBook itself.

Despite all of the cynical media maven analysis that introduced this piece, I actually believe the PlayBook has all of these attributes going for it.

That doesn't mean I'll go out and buy a PlayBook for myself tomorrow. But it does mean that if in six months, my company decided to standardize on and issue PlayBooks instead of iPads, I could see myself being perfectly happy about it. So will hundreds of thousands or more corporate workers.

The key difference is that there is no way the PlayBook will dominate the enterprise the way its smartphone/pager ancestors did. The power has slipped too far away from the command-and-control CIO for that to happen.

Topics: Enterprise Software, BlackBerry, Hardware, iPad, Mobile OS, Mobility, Operating Systems, Samsung, Tablets

About

Eric Lai tracks the latest news and trends in enterprise mobility. A veteran tech journalist most recently covering enterprise software for Computerworld, Eric joined Sybase, an SAP company in April 2010. Eric's views are his alone and do not necessarily represent those of SAP. This blog is sponsored by SAP.

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