The Hard Truth
Today, RIM has announced two new apps for the PlayBook. Video Chat will allow voice-over WiFi and one-click video. You'll be able to accept incoming calls as voice or video (or decline them) and there will also be a "Do Not Disturb" option. This app will launch on May 3rd, just ahead of the PlayBook's Facebook app.
Both of these apps will be sorely welcome on RIM's content-hungry tablet. But even after they launch, the BlackBerry tablet will be in a tight spot. There's still a lot the PlayBook needs before it can go toe-to-toe with the iPad 2.
4. More Convenience: I can't find a better way to word it then that. The iPad 2 takes 'easy to use' seriously. When I snap a picture, I can have it emailed off in about two clicks of a button. To get pictures or video off my PlayBook, I have to either connect my computer to it through WiFi sharing, or via USB cable. Neither way is very convenient.
The stock 'Notes' app on my iPad 2 automatically saves everything I write and even sends a copy to me via email. RIM's focus on Enterprise security may make that last part unfeasible, but there's no reason I should have to manually save my drafts. This is a mobile device, meant to go in and out of pockets and bags constantly. I shouldn't need to worry about saving my Word document in between meetings.
3. A MUCH Better Browser.
The PlayBook's browser isn't terrible, but it is the worst tablet browser I have yet used. Pages take way too long to load, Flash support is completely unreliable and there are just oodles of weird bugs. I can't login to my gmail account without typing in the password about two dozen times. The PlayBook just refreshes the page and dumps me back at the login screen.
I was really looking forward to having a tablet that could handle Hulu, but that now appears to have been a pipe dream. My PlayBook won't load the page. Nor will it handle most YouTube videos without being refreshed three or four times. I appreciate that RIM has put a lot of effort into Flash support but, quite frankly, it is not good enough yet to count as a feature.
2. More Apps. SO MANY More Apps.
One look at this website, highlighting PlayBook apps should give you an idea of how barren the platform really is at this point. There isn't even an Angry Birds app yet. And while the total number of available PlayBook apps (somewhere around 3,000) isn't terrible, many of the apps themselves are. Most were designed using a developer kit on a PC. Which means they were built with a mouse, and not a touchscreen.
Android app support will supposedly hit the PlayBook soon, but RIM is insane if they think that will be enough. Android has crap for tablet apps, and their regular apps won't be sized properly for the PlayBook. And they also won't be optimized to run in a virtual machine over a QNX-based OS. A slew of misshapen, glitchy apps that somebody else built is no replacement for a legitimate app selection.
1. Play or Book, Pick ONE.
RIM is, traditionally, a company that serves the enterprise market. The BlackBerry became a world-class brand because it catered perfectly to what businesses needed in a phone. But now that the smartphone market has spread beyond the boardroom, RIM finds themselves hard-pressed to satisfy the demands of both types of customer. The PlayBook represents a desperate- and nearly successful- attempt to create a business tablet that also appeals to mass users.
But it falls short, because RIM always sides with the enterprise over the end-user. Your PlayBook has no contacts or email app because bridging the tablet with a BlackBerry is the better option for a corporation. Sending images and files is such a pain because RIM wants it to be a deliberate process- not something someone who simply, say, picks up the tablet in a bar can do. Even with the (excellent) BlueBox app, you can't upload files from the PlayBook.
None of these things is a 'bad move' on RIM's fault, but they are things that frustrate customers. If your company gives you a tablet, that's one thing. But you aren't going to plunk $499 on something that immediately frustrates you, especially when a vastly more pleasant alternative sits nearby.
RIM needs to keep supporting the Enterprise market. But they can't do that at the expense of the mass market. The PlayBook should have launched with an "Enterprise" version and a "Consumer" version. Or it should have launched fully functional, with an "Enterprise" update available to lock it down for business use. Either way, customers should not have been expected to eat a sub-par product experience for the first few months.
Full disclosure? I like my PlayBook. A lot. 7" is a great size for a tablet this good at capturing the world around it. I carry this little guy everywhere I go, and I'm looking forward to what RIM does with the platform. But they need to move fast. RIM needs to decide who their customer is and focus on delighting them. If they don't, the PlayBook will be just one more burnt-out wreck smouldering in the iPad's wake.