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September 12, 2011 • Editorials

The “Other” Reason the BlackBerry PlayBook Got No Play

Preview

I attended RIM’s rollout of the BlackBerry PlayBook and they were kind enough to give each of us in attendee one to take home and use. Since that time I have taken the device out of its box every week or so to play with it a bit. Unfortunately, after using it for a brief time back into the box it goes. Time and again this is what happens.

It makes me sad. I love the hardware. The 7″ form factor is fantastic, the design of the tablet is quite nice and the OS is great. The screen is gorgeous and the speakers are probably the best speakers I have heard on a tablet yet. Yes, from a hardware perspective, the PlayBook runs second only to the iPad in my opinion.

Unfortunately that’s just about all the good things I can say about the PlayBook. As you undoubtedly know RIM has been slow to release apps for the device, the promised ability to run Android applications is still nowhere to be found, and the company that made its name on e-mail and communication had the stupidity to release a tablet that didn’t have a native e-mail application AND IT STILL DOESN’T!! As much as I feel badly for the company they really brought this on themselves.

For the longest time I thought the lack of apps was the reason the PlayBook was pretty much a complete fail. An experience yesterday, however, pointed to another, perhaps more compelling, reason why the PlayBook didn’t have a prayer even when it was released.

Before jumping into the specifics let me relate the conversation yesterday.

I was visiting a friend yesterday and she proudly told me that she had gotten both an iPad 2 and an iPhone.

“So the iPhone convinced you to get the tablet huh?” I quipped.

“No,” she said, “actually it was the other way around. I bought the iPad and then my BlackBerry had a bit of an accident. It got destroyed so I needed a new phone and I figured that since I already had the iPad I might as well get an iPhone too.”

So how does this explain what RIM did wrong with the PlayBook?

Simple, the company released a tablet that was a “companion device” to its smartphone even as people were fleeing their smartphone while Apple released a tablet that stood on its own.

The PlayBook is a nice device but to get the most from it you need to have a BlackBerry smartphone. Sure you can use the tablet on its own but if you do this you won’t be able to tap into all of the features of the tablet. And that isn’t because of the lack of apps, no, it was DESIGNED that way. As a result, not having a BlackBerry smartphone means your PlayBook is crippled from day one.

Apple, by comparison, is a company that likes to lock you into their eco-system. Still, I can buy an iPhone and live perfectly well without an iPad. More pertinent to this post, I can buy an iPad, not have an iPhone or an iPod touch and I won’t see any loss of usability in the iPad. Each device is completely and truly independent of the other. And while Apple’s new iCloud integration does bring all of their different devices together in a magical way, (I cannot tell you how cool it is to save a new Pages document on my iPhone and have it magically appear on my iPad) you don’t have to use the integration in order to get the most from the device. (And now that you can backup and sync with their cloud storage you don’t even need to have a computer nearby.)

The bottom line is this–in just about every single way RIM blew it with the PlayBook. Yes, I know that that is old news. But they didn’t just blow it because it’s “an app world” and they don’t have any. They blew it because the entire way they conceived of their tablet, as a companion device to BlackBerry smartphones, narrowed their market before the device was even released. In a world where fewer and fewer people want BlackBerry smartphones releasing a tablet that relies on having one is just plain stupid. Sad to say, RIM pretty much made their own bed.

12 Responses to " The “Other” Reason the BlackBerry PlayBook Got No Play "

  1. pcar says:

    you take it out of the box every week of so and play with it a bit… and on that you make a judgement. Well, I’d agree if you were right. The entire way they conceived the PB is the reason its a success for those of us who understand how to use it in personal/work situations. Just plain stupid as you say.

    • Anonymous says:

      I take it out, use it, see what additional apps are available in order to see if it is more usable for me as someone who doesn’t currently use a BlackBerry. And time and again, months after its release, it still doesn’t have a native email client and there are still pitiful few apps available for it. Oh, and at the rollout I was told to expect the ability to run Android apps in a month or two. Still can’t. So YES, on that I DO make a judgment. If I didn’t still have some hope for it I would not even bother and it would not be here still but, at the current time it is a fail. I’m glad it works for you but RIM has sliced projections and developers don’t seem all that interested. 

      I was THRILLED to see Evernote release an app for it but that was one of the few exciting apps I’ve come across. I’m glad it works for you. Truly. But I fear you are one of the few. 

      And yes, I stand by my statement that releasing a device that is so clearly in a supportive position to the BB smartphone even as RIM is struggling with its marketshare is not the brightest move in 2011.

    • Anonymous says:

      pcar- I’m glad you ended your statement “The entire way they conceived the PB is the reason its a success” with “for those of us who understand…” in light of the fact that RIM SHIPPED (not sold by the way but simply SHIPPED) 200,000 of them. That is anything but a success and I would venture to say that that is, in part, due to the lack of a native email client and their having conceived it as a device for tethering to a declining smartphone brand.

  2. Rmb11 says:

    couldn’t agree more with your comments about RIM releasing a hobbled device rather than a tablet designed to stand on it’s own strength. I was totally floored the first time I heard that the $500+ iPad killer couldn’t even edit emails offline without being connected to a blackberry. I’m totally dating myself here, but it reminds me of how IBM hobbled their first few attempts at a personal computer (talking about the one before the PC we all know today — had a tiny screen and a big red switch to toggle between BASIC and APL) because they were afraid of cannibalizing the mainframe business.

    the playbook was clearly a defensive gesture, not a creative one.

  3. Rmb11 says:

    couldn’t agree more with your comments about RIM releasing a hobbled device rather than a tablet designed to stand on it’s own strength. I was totally floored the first time I heard that the $500+ iPad killer couldn’t even edit emails offline without being connected to a blackberry. I’m totally dating myself here, but it reminds me of how IBM hobbled their first few attempts at a personal computer (talking about the one before the PC we all know today — had a tiny screen and a big red switch to toggle between BASIC and APL) because they were afraid of cannibalizing the mainframe business.

    the playbook was clearly a defensive gesture, not a creative one.

  4. Anonymous says:

    That AND there are scant few apps available. Here’s what RIM actually says-

    The perfect pair: BlackBerry® Bridge lets you view the email, BBM™, calendar and address book on your BlackBerry® smartphone on the larger BlackBerry PlayBook display. Check an email while you’re watching a movie, send a picture over BBM or browse your corporate Intranet, all without missing a beat.
    No BlackBerry smartphone yet? No problem. You still get all the web, multimedia, gaming, e-reading and multimedia you can handle.

    Yes, it will not NEED a BB when (IF?) it ever gets the email client but RIM went into this marketing this first and foremost as a companion BB device. I still would argue it is far from the smartest move.

    BUT!! As far as hardware goes I DO LIKE IT a great deal. Were it running Android apps or if it had a good selection of native apps available I might see things quite differently. IT DOESN’T.

  5. David Min says:

    With the recent sale that Best Buy was having on the PlayBook, I decided to take the plunge and get the 64 GB model.  I hooked it up to my computer with the stock BB Desktop software and downloaded videos onto the device.  I played these videos, surfed the web, and generally doodled around on it.  I checked out the App World and looked for interesting bits of software to try out or purchase.

    As a device, the hardware is fantastic (aside from the stupid power button, which still takes me about 3 tries to activate properly).  The form factor feels good in the hand, the screen is bright and sharp, and it is a lot of fun to use as a media device and web surfing device.  However, it is still missing so many KEY apps to make it useful as a stand-alone tablet.  Aside from email, where is the Kindle client? Or the Nook client?  I am still looking for a decent weather app.

    The killing blow for me is that the PlayBook doesn’t seem to talk that well with my Airport base stations.  I’m not trying to pin the blame on RIM (I’m actually wiling to bet it has more to do with Apple’s hardware/software) but for a device that I can only use on WiFi, and that being mostly my home WiFi, it is a deal-breaker.  It’s too bad, actually, as I was even tempted to get a Torch 2 on AT&T to use alongside the PlayBook (seeing as AT&T finally supports use of BB Bridge).

    So it’ll likely go back into the box and back to Best Buy.

    • Anonymous says:

      That really mirrors my experience. There is so much to like and I WANT to like it but it continually disappoints when I actually use it.
      Little tip- don’t use the power button except for initial boot. To wake from sleep simply swipe from one bezel to the other- either side to side or top to bottom. That will wake it with not stupid button required.

      Sent from one iOS device or another

    • Anonymous says:

      That really mirrors my experience. There is so much to like and I WANT to like it but it continually disappoints when I actually use it.
      Little tip- don’t use the power button except for initial boot. To wake from sleep simply swipe from one bezel to the other- either side to side or top to bottom. That will wake it with not stupid button required.

      Sent from one iOS device or another

    • I would not blame Airport so quickly, David – we have an all-Airport (Airport Extreme plus two Airport Express extenders for full house coverage) network, and I have *everything* on it … from older PDAs through PC and Mac and Linux and Kindle and nook and Android and on and on and on!  To have something not work properly would have me immediately suspect the device.

      • Anonymous says:

        let me second that. I haven’t seen any issues with wifi since I’ve been using the device

        • David Min says:

          Perhaps it is a problem with the PlayBook.  It does log onto the network and obtains its IP address successfully, but surfing is really slow and downloading Apps is a complete pain.  I think it would have taken 24 hours (!!) to download the NFS game update.  The thing is, when I log it onto the Wireless hotspot on my GTab 10.1, it seems to work much better.  That’s mainly why I was blaming my Airport network.

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