This is a unique time for the tablet market. This summer, there will be more competition for your tablet-buying dollar than we're ever likely to see again. Heavyweights from across the industry- RIM and HP and Samsung and Motorola and many more, are lining up to take their shot at the iPad. Almost all of them will fail spectacularly- Motorola already has.
Right now we have the potential for four competing tablet platforms. Android seems certain to continue on. But RIM and HP are both shooting for near-identical markets with their products. WebOS is a productivity-focused operating system that uses primarily gesture-based controls. RIM's new QNX-based OS for the PlayBook is so similar that both companies have admitted to being look-alikes.
This is a thornier issue. There are advantages to both display sizes, and neither is perfect for everyone. If you spend a great deal of time flying or using public transit, the PlayBook's 7" screen is a better mix of comfort and practicality. You may find that smaller size makes the PlayBook a more enjoyable gaming device. And the fact that it weighs 0.9 lbs makes it a better e-reader.
The TouchPad's larger, 9.7" display is more ideal from a productivity point of view. A bigger screen puts more in your immediate field of view and allows the TouchPad to function as an external monitor or as a visual aid in some sort of presentation. You may also find that more screen means a better experience...
I've spent a fair chunk of time watching high-def media and gaming on the PlayBook. I was blown away by both the quality of the display and in how pleasant RIM's tablet was to use as a controller. But I still think the TouchPad has an edge. The larger screen is only part of it- Beats Audio is the main reason. I didn't get to spend an extended chunk of time with the TouchPad at MWC, but what I heard was very impressive.
Another thing to consider is the content deals behind both products. HP has the Movie Store, plus access to the Kindle store. The WebOS app ecosystem will be very bare-bones for the foreseeable future. But several apps, like Angry Birds, Time and last.fm, have been confirmed for the TouchPad.
RIM has access to much more content- their native app store is fairly limited, but the PlayBook also has access to Android apps. Sure, they won't work as well over a virtual machine as they would natively, but the option is still nice to have.
Makin' It Work:
The PlayBook is a BlackBerry, which means it is enterprise-ready. But the TouchPad will also launch with enterprise support. The Citrix Receiver app will tune your browser in to Citrix apps and virtual desktops. HP has also shown off programs like AutoCAD, working in the cloud. That kind of power is just a hare out of reach for the PlayBook.
But the fact that the PlayBook connects to BlackBerry smartphones gives it an edge on the TouchPad for many businesses. Palm Pre integration isn't quite as impressive by comparison, even though that touch syncing program looks pretty cool.
What to Do?
Don't pre-order, from either manufacturer. If you're still on the fence about which tablet is right for you, you'll need to see them both in person. The PlayBook and the TouchPad have similar operating systems, but they both feel very different in your hand. $499 is worth waiting for.