Can the BlackBerry PlayBook appeal to non-BB owners?

Research in Motion is jumping into the tablet market with the BlackBerry PlayBook launching on April 19th. But this isn't any tablet, and RIM might have trouble selling this device to non-BlackBerry owners.
Written by Rachel King, Contributor


Research in Motion is jumping into the tablet market with the BlackBerry PlayBook launching on April 19th. But this isn't any tablet, and RIM might have trouble selling this device to non-BlackBerry owners.

First, I'd like to say that I've seen this device in person, and while I'll haven't spent an extensive amount of time pouring over each and every feature, the first impression was a good one. The gestures are intuitive, making navigation very simple for any buyer. The BlackBerry Tablet OS (with Android app support hidden in there somewhere) is rich in graphics without being overwhelming.

Before even getting to why this tablet might be for BlackBerry owners only, it is definitely a business person's tablet more than an average consumer model. It's a 7-inch tablet, and when I first held it, the PlayBook immediately reminded me of the HP Slate. The PlayBook certainly plays the part of a consumer tablet better than the Slate (which seems to be the direction that RIM wants to take) with its more colorful and brighter OS along with the excellent 1080p HD video playback that looked spectacular on the capacitive multi-touch display.

Nevertheless, the 7-inch frame makes it ideal for a frequent business traveler, and that form factor is touted to be able to fit into inner jacket pockets. As nice as the display is, someone buying a tablet primarily for entertainment is going to want a slightly larger screen. Other useful features right from launch time that will be appealing to business-minded buyers include the same high security levels seen on BlackBerry smartphones along with rather improved mobile versions of Microsoft Word and Excel.

But the absolute biggest reason that will make this tablet unappealing to non-BlackBerry owners is the email situation. BlackBerry owners will not have a problem here as emails (along with contacts and calendars) are mirrored from a BlackBerry handheld to the PlayBook using a secure Bluetooth connection.

There is no native email app on the PlayBook - although RIM has promised that such an app will be issued in a future software update without specifying a time frame as to when we can expect this. Until then, non-BlackBerry owners will have to resort to using the browser to access email. Given that the Wi-Fi only version of the PlayBook is the sole model being released on Tuesday, that will present a problem for users who want to check their email on the tablet's browser when in transit. (The 4G edition will roll out this summer with Sprint.)

One has to ask, why not just install the client before shipping the tablet out in the first place? Supposedly there are technical reasons, but it's a big mistake to rush a tablet out without having an email client installed. How could a tablet have any chance of success without a native email client? That's one of the primary reasons of buying a tablet. It makes the basics convenient to access but you can get more work done than you could on a smartphone.

RIM can forget any dreams about beating Apple and the iPad 2 at this point. At least that email app supports email from multiple sources, including Gmail, Yahoo Mail and multiple Microsoft Exchange accounts. It should stand a chance against the Motorola Xoom given the way reviews have gone with that one, and also against the HTC Evo View 4G (which is the same size) once that is released this summer.

However, I will say that I think this is the ideal tablet for BlackBerry owners. It's obvious this tablet was designed for them, so why bother going with anything else? Not to mention there are several features to praise on this tablet besides the display, including HDMI connectivity and the 3-megapixel front-facing webcam that would be ideal for video chat and conferencing.

But RIM is still going to have a very difficult time starting this Tuesday in trying to sell the PlayBook to the mass market. Just as advertised on the product page, it is a "professional-grade" tablet. But the PlayBook is definitely a business tablet and only worth buying (at least right now) if you already have a BlackBerry.

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