Research in Motion (RIM) is set to release the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet in just a few days, yet based on initial reviews the company is still changing the hardware and software that will ship to early customers. This doesn't evoke a sense of confidence that the PlayBook is ready for the real world, especially the demanding enterprise market that RIM is planning on addressing with its first tablet.
My colleague Matt Miller has a roundup of the initial reviews of the PlayBook, which were rushed out when the embargo on them was lifted by RIM. I have spent all morning reading them in detail, and while the PlayBook shows potential these early reviews have me more than a little concerned if the tablet is truly ready for market.
Every review published about the PlayBook points out that the little power button is useless. RIM unwisely chose to make this button recessed to sit flush with the casing, and since it is so tiny every reviewer agrees that it is almost impossible to push. The power button on tablets is used all the time, to put them to sleep and wake them up, and this one doesn't work well for that simple purpose. More than one reviewer questioned why RIM didn't catch this in its own testing, which matches my own thoughts. How do you go to market with a glaring design defect?
RIM intends to fix this design problem according to Anandtech who report:
RIM tells me that final versions of the PlayBook will have this power button raised by 0.8mm, enough to make it easily clickable.
It's good that the company intends to address this universal complaint, but this points out that the hardware being reviewed by everybody is not the final version that will ship to consumers. That ship date is just a few days away so what else is RIM going to change? How can consumers be confident what they will receive if it's still in flux?
The same can be said about the software on the PlayBook, as reviewers pointed out that the OS is buggy and inconsistent at times. The reviewer for Crackberry pointed out that the software as reviewed is not final:
With under two weeks to launch when receiving my review unit, it was on pre-release software that didn't feature BlackBerry Bridge (I actually received an OS update last night that enabled a fairly completed version of Bridge), nor was there any sign of Video Chat yet, which we know is coming.
The appearance of all of these PlayBook reviews just before the ship date would imply that the hardware and software must be ready to go, but it sounds like it is very much a work in progress. Let's hope RIM gets everything in order before buyers start receiving PlayBooks.
RIM has created a compelling tablet in the PlayBook, and the early reviewers are mostly impressed. But they consistently point out that the PlayBook needs to mature quickly, and we'll have to see how quickly RIM moves to do that.
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