To no one’s surprise, RIM announced a BlackBerry tablet, dubbed the PlayBook at their developers conference today. RIM has seen its share of the smartphone market decline precipitously since the introduction of the iPhone and Android phone platforms, and despite high hopes for the BlackBerry Torch, sales and reviews have been disappointing, to say the least. The move into the tablet market, though inevitable given the popularity of Apple’s iPad and analyst’s rosy projections for the market, means the RIM is playing catch-up in a space that Apple largely created. How they’ll fare at this remains to be seen, but given what they’ve revealed about the PlayBook, here’s our take on where they think they can stick it to Apple.
- Size and Weight: The PlayBook is rougly 5.1 inches by 7 inches, while the iPad is roughly 7.5 inches by 9.5 inches. Clearly RIM, like Dell, has concluded that a lot of people think the iPad is just too big. We’re not sure about this, but for its size, the iPad is heavy at 1.5 pounds. The PlayBook claims to weigh in at 0.9 pounds, so it will be substantially lighter, but at what price? This of course, brings us to…
- Battery Life: The iPads, folks seem to agree, is pretty impressive, given its size and display. Large batteries also occupy most of the space inside the iPad and account for much of the weight mentioned above. RIM has to think that using a smaller screen and smaller battery will enable them to be competitive here, but so far they’ve said nothing about battery life. BlackBerries are notoriously great when it comes to battery life, however, so we’ll given RIM the benefit of the doubt here.
- RAM and Processor: The message here is clear. RIM thinks the iPad is underpowered. They’ve gone with a dual-core 1GHz processor, which they’re claiming is the first multi-core in a tablet, along with 1GB of RAM, which is four times the iPad’s 256MB. Could this be overkill though? The 1GHz A4 processor in the iPad is able to pretty deftly handle the browsing and light app tasks that most folks throw at it, and can even handle non-hardware accelerated video decoding pretty well., though we don’t yet know how it will fare once the iPad can (quasi)multitask come November. What’s more, RIM is promising real multitasking from the start as well as support for hardware accelerated Adobe Flash 10.1 and OpenGL, among other things. These features will surely benefit from the PlayBook’s dual-core processor and extra RAM, we wonder what it will cost in terms of battery life. The word “battery” is conspicuously absent from RIM’s PlayBook press release.
- Connections: Not surprisingly, RIM is under the impression that the iPad’s lacking on this front, as the PlayBook boasts standard mini HDMI and USB plugs, with nary a proprietary connection to be found. Again, while some people have cited this as an iPad shortcoming, it hasn’t stopped them from flying off the shelves.
- Cameras: The PlayBook rocks a front and a rear camera, both capable of stills and HD video. Presumably there will be some kind of video conferencing option (is Skype too much to hope for?), but we’d also be shocked if Apple doesn’t have an iPad with similar functionality available by early next year.
- Apps: Speaking of connections, RIM seems be trying to make their tablet app environment friendly by allowing apps to be created via Adobe AIR. Sure Apple, seems to have caved and allowed this too via Adobe’s Packager, but we have to give props to RIM for baking this in from the beginning (as if they had a choice). The real issue here is will developers bother to make apps for the new BlackBerry Tablet OS. We don’t yet know how related it is to the typical BlackBerry OS variants, or if regular BlackBerry apps will be compatible. As crowded as the marketplace is right now, it might be tough to try to induce developers to create apps for yet another platform.
- BlackBerry-ness: Last but not least, the PlayBook’s trump card is the fact that it supports BlackBerry’s flagship enterprise email system right out of the box, with all the nifty security and syncing features that go along with it. What’s more, the PlayBook connects to your BlackBerry via bluetooth to provide you with an enhanced view of what’s already on your BlackBerry. This sounds appealing to the business crowd, who won’t have to worry about making their office email, calendar, contacts, etc. work with the new tablet. IT folks won’t have to worry either, as all the actual data is still stored on your phone, which is pretty slick.
All in all, we’re going to tentatively say that the PlayBook seems like a worthy iPad competitor, for now. If RIM can make the web-browsing experience as appealing and easy as on an iPad, the benefits that come from full Flash support (assuming it really works) should outweigh or at least mitigate Apple’s advantage in app availability. What’s more, the integration of BlackBerry’s enterprise products might make it the tablet of choice for businesses. Basically, they’ll just have to avoid all the mistakes they made in rushing out a clunky imitation of the iPhone.
The real issue here is that as great as the PlayBook has the potential to be, it won’t be out until “early 2011,” by which time there will be several other tablets on the market and likely a second-generation iPad. Why has no one taken a page from the Apple playbook and stopped announcing products until they were ready to ship?