BlackBerry PlayBook: Beware of the demo-ware tablet

BlackBerry PlayBook: Beware of the demo-ware tablet

Summary: The BlackBerry PlayBook looks flashy and has excellent specs, but it's still a long way from coming to market and it may fall short in the four areas where a tablet needs to excel.

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I have a similar feeling about the BlackBerry PlayBook (below) as I had about Google Wave when it was introduced. It's a product that looks great in a PowerPoint presentation but when I think about it in the real world, I start to have my doubts.

After its flashy introduction on Monday, my skepticism of the PlayBook deepened when there were no pre-release units available for us to try after the demo. The only glimpses available of the BlackBerry tablet were a few of them suspended behind glass running short videos in a continuous loop.

That, combined with the fact that the release date is "early 2011," means that this product is nowhere near complete. Research in Motion announcing it 4-6 months before it actually arrives in the market is RIM's way of saying, "Hey, we've got a tablet, too. Before you go out and buy an iPad or an Android tablet, hold off until we come out with ours."

This "freezing the market" technique is an old trick employed effectively by others, but especially Microsoft. However, it doesn't work when there are already viable products in the market from trusted vendors. The fact that RIM is pre-announcing the PlayBook so early is evidence that they are fearful of the iPad gaining too much momentum in the enterprise.

Another big warning siren with the PlayBook was the way RIM announced it. RIM co-CEO Mike Lazaridis put emphasis on two things:

  1. This is a tablet for professional business users
  2. The PlayBook has great specs

It certainly makes sense for RIM to focus on the enterprise. That's where it's traditional strength is and enterprises have taken a quick and surprising affinity to the iPad, which means there's definitely a market there. However, while the PlayBook does has impressive specs, the fact that RIM chose to emphasize them so heavily isn't a good sign.

RIM talked about the PlayBook's dual core processor, 1 GB of RAM, and Flash 10.1 as if they had just pulled out a royal flush at the poker table. They seemed to gloat with self-satisfaction over each of these features, as if to say, "Aha! See, we're sticking it to the iPad."

Not only was that annoying, it was evidence that RIM is stuck in 1990s thinking about computing devices. The bottom line is that most of those specs don't mean much any more. Both consumers and the enterprise -- at least, the smart enterprises -- want products that just work and that get the technology itself out of the way. (I would say that Flash is one of the things that people want to just work, but after using it on Android 2.2 devices and seeing how slow and buggy it is, I'm starting to think NOT having Flash on mobile devices is a benefit.)

The iPad has four killer features:

  1. Ease of use
  2. Great battery life
  3. Lots of apps
  4. Price

Any tablet that wants to compete with the iPad needs to be at least minimally competent in those four areas and then bring something to the table that outshines the iPad.

Unfortunately, the PlayBook is likely to come up short in all four areas.

In terms of ease of use, while the demo of the PlayBook's tablet OS looks like a mix between the iPad and the Palm WebOS, RIM does not have a good history of building usable software. Their software is very secure and it's full-featured, but ease of use has never been one of their strengths, so they would have to pull off a coup here. The primary reason why the iPad has been so successful is because the user experience is almost completely self-evident.

In neither RIM's on-stage presentation nor in its official press release did the company mention a single word about battery life. While it sounds impressive that the PlayBack has a 1 GHz dual-core processor, it takes a lot of power to run that kind of CPU. BlackBerry devices typically have excellent battery life, so RIM knows what it's doing in this department. Still, it would be very difficult to get over 10 hours of battery life (the iPad's gold standard) out of tablet with a dual core CPU. And, the fact that RIM didn't mention battery life is probably an indication that it's something they're still wrestling with.

In terms of apps, the PlayBook is built on QNX, a totally separate architecture than the traditional BlackBerry OS. Here's what RIM said about it as an app platform in its official statement:

"The OS is fully POSIX compliant enabling easy portability of C-based code, supports Open GL for 2D and 3D graphics intensive applications like gaming, and will run applications built in Adobe Mobile AIR as well as the new BlackBerry WebWorks app platform announced today (which will allow apps to be written to run on BlackBerry PlayBook tablets as well as BlackBerry smartphones with BlackBerry 6). The BlackBerry Tablet OS will also support Java enabling developers to easily bring their existing BlackBerry 6 Java applications to the BlackBerry Tablet OS environment."

I applaud RIM for having the guts to do a complete reboot on their tablet OS, but this also means that when the new platform launches there will probably won't be many apps since most of the existing BlackBerry apps will need some tinkering in order to work on the tablet. And then, RIM is going to have to convince developers to write apps for its tablet instead of (or in addition to) iPad and Android.

The other thing RIM didn't talk about when unveiling the PlayBook was the price. As most of you probably know, when a salesperson doesn't tell you the price of something upfront it's usually because the product is expensive and they want to sell you on the value so that you don't get sticker shock from the big price tag. A lot of people who scoffed at the idea of an Apple tablet at the rumored $999 price tag before its launch changed their minds when the iPad was unveiled at $499 for the least expensive model.

I'm afraid we could see the opposite phenomenon with the PlayBook, especially with all of the high-end specs RIM is touting. A lot of those who are intrigued by the PlayBook today could be priced out of the device when we finally learn the real price tag in the coming months. If it comes in at $800 or more, as I suspect it might, then it will likely be a narrow niche product, at best.

Also read

This article was originally published on TechRepublic.

Topics: BlackBerry, Hardware, Laptops, Mobility, Tablets

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47 comments
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  • Good article...

    While the video looks good, one must remember it's just a video! We all remember the Courier concept stuff...
    webmaster@...
    • courier

      @webmaster@... <br>ah, the courier stuff. that was a product, oops, concept video the blogosphere really loved. and even after it was canceled they refused to accept the fact that is was - a concept video! <br><br>anyway: anyone ever wondered why all of these ipad wannabee vaporware thingys have to go with 7"? has apple bought up all 10" screens? would it be too expensive, too much on the battery? any ideas? when the size is so obviously wrong (like a very big phone?), why would they go with that, other that they have to?
      banned from zdnet
  • RE: BlackBerry PlayBook: Beware of the demo-ware tablet

    Enterprises don't care about app stores. They will adopt the Playbook because of RIM's security infrastructure and its pairing with Blackberrys.<br><br>Flash and Adobe Air are the icing on the corporate cake. Perfect for presentations, sales and field apps.
    kevindarling
  • Disagree

    on "The iPad has four killer features:
    1. Ease of use
    2. Great battery life
    3. Lots of apps
    4. Price"

    1. Ease of use - easy to use flash-less web browsing and crApps
    2. Battery Life - I'll take your word on that
    3. Lots of crApps
    4. Price - you're joking.

    The Enterprise is Flash-friendly. Until the iPad is Flash-friendly, it is not enterprise-friendly

    The iPad's success epitomizes our culture's sheepish mentality towards consumerism.

    I love how two of the 3 "Also Read" articles aren't all fanboyish like this one.
    man_strosity
    • RE: BlackBerry PlayBook: Beware of the demo-ware tablet

      @rueldeleon@...
      1. I could figure out iOS, Palm and HTC Sensed Android within 5 minutes. BlackBerry OS on 9700 was hopeless. Menu after menu after menu... Most people don't seem to care about Flash.
      2. Battery life is great - none of the announced rivals can match it.
      3. There's lot of crap in AppStore, but TONS of useful and entertaining apps. Electronic Arts game on Android or Berry? Don't think so. EA is gaming giant, FYI. Not to mention hundreds of scientific, medical or maths apps.
      4. Compare prices for contract free iPad with its rival(s). Samsung Galaxy tablet sells for 799 euros in Germany. iPad is 499 euros.
      kitko
      • RE: BlackBerry PlayBook: Beware of the demo-ware tablet

        @kitko You're comparing an OS two full versions back from this. Try and find device settings on the iOS sometime... and tell me about easy to use. It's all about what you are used to.
        mapsonburt
      • RE: BlackBerry PlayBook: Beware of the demo-ware tablet

        @mapsonburt iOS settings are the same place as in OS X - in the system prefs. icon. From there, they are well labelled, and most just have an on/off switch or are username/password.
        I'm not saying it's the greatest thing ever invented, but it is intuitive for sure.
        www.dfwsupergeek.com
        unclefixer@...
    • RE: BlackBerry PlayBook: Beware of the demo-ware tablet

      @rueldeleon@...

      Lol I was thinking the same thing. The 4 so called ipad killer points he gave are 4 of the main reasons the ipad sucks...Ease of use where the os is not an easy to use or convinient setup..The battery last a good time but is not replaceable y the average user so forced to have a repair tech or apple do it...Lots of apps yup all apple approved so your boxed into garbage apps.....The price ..well thats just a huge draw back to the tablet as the ipad at max value is a $299 device at best so that point kills the ipad all together.. I was wondering if maybe the author worked for apple there...Rim has a nice device but the os is lack luster and the price needs to be $399 or under with no kind of contracts like the ipad AT&T debacle.
      Fletchguy
      • RE: BlackBerry PlayBook: Beware of the demo-ware tablet

        this was posted on the Rim web http://na.blackberry.com/eng/#
        under specs - enterprise ready
        3G access via existing BlackBerry smartphone service plan
        Ann22
      • wtf... the battery gets 10hrs of video playback

        @Fletchguy.. confirmed by tonnes of reviews as being conservative.. that's several days in normal use. they have removed the need for a replaceable battery.. and batteries stop taking a charge after several years of use meaning by the time you need to replace the battery, your on to a new device anyway.. people are really missing that this is probably the biggest tech marvel in this device.. no one has touched this.. samsung is talking about 7hr of general use with a screen almost half the size.

        googles approval process has already started to reap the downside of their open process.. malicious apps and spyware has started to appear.. not to mention that google's OS is itself spyware..

        compared to other devices out there the iPad is cheap.. might not seem cheap to you but others can't seem to build a similar device for less..
        doctorSpoc
      • RE: BlackBerry PlayBook: Beware of the demo-ware tablet

        @Fletchguy Which things do people imagine can be the disparity among <a href="http://www.rxshop.md/products/haircare/propecia">buy Propecia</a> with <a href="http://www.rxshop.md/products/haircare/finpecia">buy Finpecia</a>?
        saieazby
    • RE: BlackBerry PlayBook: Beware of the demo-ware tablet

      @rueldeleon@... You retar d, don't use the crApps then. Get the good ones. Flash is useful half the time, when it works otherwise you're left with an empty battery 1/10th of the way on your trip.
      m3kw9
    • RE: BlackBerry PlayBook: Beware of the demo-ware tablet

      @rueldeleon@... <br><br>Finally rented an iPad for a week to test its HTML5.<br><br>It needs:<br><br>A camera.<br>Multi-tasking (incredibly unresponsive when it's doing anything else like downloading a file)<br>Standard HTML 5 (not letting you use autoplay on video/audio is NOT standard HTML5)<br>Play an MP3 file with a low bit rate without repeating it<br>A BACK button<br>A cursor key pad for moving text cursors (that magnifier approach is just so bad)<br>A keyboard that doesn't change what the Enter key means every two seconds<br>A keyboard I could use without swapping back and forth between its two modes to enter a single word or phrase.<br>WiFI that doesn't drop out and slow down (maybe that metal case might have something to do with it)<br>A browser that let you see the whole screen and actually make use of the 1024x768<br>Lighter and less slick as it's real easy to drop it<br>Some way to sanitize it occasionally, as it get filthy within a few minutes of finger painting<br>A browser that rendered standard fonts in the same width as other browsers.<br>A browser that had any form of debugging<br>The Webdings font<br>Flash<br>Make it useful outdoors rather than just a mirror.<br>A better price.<br>
      A non-siloed interface that doesn't remind me of a crowded desktop<br><br>No, I didn't like it.
      tonymcs@...
      • Wow, that sounds terrible!!

        @tonymcs@...
        Thanks for your review, it is a breath of fresh air from the circle-jerking that passes for most Apple related comments and blogs on ZDNet.
        NonZealot
      • woahh

        @tonymcs@...
        some of the apple haters here at zdnet don't like the ipad! and applaud each other for doing so. stop the presses!

        p.s. debugging? you gotta be kidding. get yourself a netbook.
        banned from zdnet
  • We at Apple thank you Jason

    Your cheque is in the mail. Keep up the good work!
    NonZealot
    • RE: BlackBerry PlayBook: Beware of the demo-ware tablet

      @NonZealot What happened to "Cue the double standards"?

      Didn't you get your M$ check this month?
      I12BPhil
      • What is an M$ check?

        @I12BPhil
        Not sure who or what M$ is.
        NonZealot
    • RE: BlackBerry PlayBook: Beware of the demo-ware tablet

      @NonZealot Then why don't you write an article so RIM can pay you, you can be rich.
      m3kw9
  • RE: BlackBerry PlayBook: Beware of the demo-ware tablet

    Perhaps they are showing it off early in the development process so that there are indeed apps available for when it comes to market. Considering that the platform is being unveiled at a DEVELOPERS conference, that seems entirely plausible to me.
    frankrig