BlackBerry Playbook: four reasons to like it and five reasons to pause

Research in Motion has apparently learned some lessons after the underwhelming response the company received to its BlackBerry Torch smartphone.
RIM’s first foray into the tablet market has gotten a lot of things right that its big smartphone release this summer got wrong, particularly on the specifications side. Not only did the Torch’s screen size come in smaller than most smartphones, but its 624MHz processor was significantly slower than most smartphones on the market, which typically now have processors of 1GHz or higher.

But RIM has made some smart decisions with its new PlayBook tablet that will help differentiate it in what is becoming a crowded tablet market. In brief, here are four things that RIM got right when it designed its first-ever tablet:

Get the processing power right

This is key since processors have moved far beyond the traditional functions of plain old central processing units (CPU) and are now responsible for an array of functions including power saving, system memory and video processing. And while the Torch’s 624MHz processor was a disappointment, RIM made sure to arm its first tablet with a 1GHz dual-core processor that puts it on par with the iPad and other competitors. So if you pick up a PlayBook you can expect it to support the same caliber of video playing and memory as the iPad.

Make it lighter and leaner

Since the PlayBook is targeted at enterprise users who travel a lot, RIM made sure to make it even slimmer and lighter than the iPad. For the record, the PlayBook is 0.4 inches thick and weighs 0.9 pounds, while the iPad is 0.5 inches thick and weighs 1.5 pounds. So not only will the PlayBook have the same processing power as the iPad, but it will be even more portable.

Cater to the enterprise

While RIM has been moving more toward the consumer market in recent years, the company seems smart enough to know that it can’t out-consumer Apple. Enterprise features are RIM’s bread and butter and they will be key to peeling away enterprise customers from the iPad.

The company has so far been emphasizing the PlayBook’s HD videoconferencing capabilities, an obvious boon to enterprise users. The tablet also features all the same wireless data security features that have made BlackBerry devices such big hits in the enterprise. So unless Apple starts operating its own NOC in the near future, it’s likely that RIM will continue to offer the best wireless security for corporate users.
Support both Flash and HTML

Apple CEO Steve Jobs has been feuding for the past year with Adobe over the efficiency of its Flash platform, which is commonly used to deliver video on the Internet. Jobs claims that Flash is a poorly designed program responsible for crashing Apple computers. Jobs also says Flash is ill-equipped for mobile devices as it sucks up battery life and has security holes. Apple has instead encouraged developers to write applications on open standards such as CSS, JavaScript and the emerging HTML 5 standard.

RIM has said, “Forget all that. Our tablet will support both Flash and HTML 5,” thus giving application developers more leeway in the language they use to write apps for the BlackBerry 6 OS. This may not guarantee that the PlayBook becomes a world-beating hit, of course, but it was a savvy move that will please developers and perhaps entice more of them to develop apps for RIM.

However, there are at least five reasons why anyone thinking of buying a PlayBook should wait.

1. The BlackBerry Tablet OS

Built on the QNX Neutrino microkernel architecture, part of a RIM acquisition of QNX Software Systems, the OS is incompatible with other BlackBerry devices. And while RIM says that there will soon be applications that will make them able to talk to one another, so far there are none. Perhaps by making the announcement at a convention for developers, RIM hoped to jump-start the process.

2. Unknown Price

So far RIM is keeping mum on a suggested retail price for the PlayBook, which probably means the original price was deemed too high and they have to make it more competitive. RIM should have a range, though, from $499 (the price of the cheapest iPad) to $1067 (the rumored cost for a Galaxy Tab.) I tend to be cynical when companies announce their cool new gadgets but refrain from a retail price, it makes me anticipate a price-gouging. My vote is that RIM’s tablet had better be cost-effective to make any dent on the iPad or Android platform market share.

3. 7-inch Touchscreen
While many are touting the 7-inch touchscreen as something new, that doesn’t mean it’s best for your company. While the almost 10-inch iPad has found a business audience, there hasn’t been a big demand for a smaller display. The PlayBook is a slightly smaller device, and less than a pound, but it’s too big for pockets, and the font or icons may be hard to read for nearsighted customers or employees.

4. Apps? What Apps?

Applications for the PlayBook aren’t even in the development phase yet, unlike its competitors running iOS and Android, whose apps number in the hundreds of thousands. Worse, the PlayBook needs an app just to be able to communicate with a BlackBerry handset.

5. The Joy of Tethering

The PlayBook won’t have a cellular carrier, so any Internet access would be through tethering the device to a BlackBerry phone. While some may not find this annoying, try doing this for a few hours, and see how fast your battery life disappears.

Granted, the PlayBook can use Wi-Fi on public networks, but be prepared to share your information with curious neighbors. With two HD cameras, a 1 GHz processor, 1080p video recording and multitasking, the PlayBook isn’t without utility or charm, but without substance or a real price, it’s not worth considering–especially when the iPad is already available.

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