The BlackBerry Playbook is Great And it has Already Failed

Justin Daab



So, the tablet wars have begun. The iPad rules the roost. Android tablets are becoming ever more commonplace and increasingly price competitive. And now, RIM enters the market with its BlackBerry PlayBook. As someone who devours specs and enjoys swimming in the deep end of geekery, I’ll admit there’s much to like about the PlayBook. 
First, the platform is built on top of a rock-solid, fast, industrial strength real-time operating system (RTOS) called QNX—which was purchased by RIM. The QNX kernel (the main chunk of code that runs the show) has proven itself in industrial and mission-critical installations for years. Making that OS go is a fast, dual-core processor with a full gigabyte of RAM (twice that of the iPad 2). This hardware/software combination is great at multitasking and resisting the kinds of crashes that occasionally lock up your iPad or iPhone. Not saying the playbook won’t crash, but it will be harder to do. The 7” form factor is quite nice and feels “right” in your hands.

RIMs second critical acquisition resulted in the assimilation of UI gurus, The Astonishing Tribe. If any group of individuals has the talent and creativity to make the PlayBook experience on par with or even superior to the Apple standard, it’s these guys.

So why will it fail? To paraphrase an overused political rant, “It’s the execution, stupid.” RIM has planted a large collection of red flags in the PlayBook’s lawn for developers and consumers alike—not the least of which is the use of Ke$ha in their promotional materials. Really, Rim? Ke$ha? But I digress.

Apparently to anger everyone who might purchase version 1.0, RIM has decided that the Playbook should have no native email or calendar apps. You need to “bridge” it to a blackberry phone for that functionality. If they believe this somehow will stem the bleeding of market share they are suffering in the mobile handset space, they are horribly mistaken. Imagine a consumer’s disappointment when they buy one and try to set up their email. RIM says, just use the browser. But many companies do not provide web-based access to their email. Even if they do, I call it a fail. RIM has promised eventually they will offer native email. In this highly competitive space, “eventually” is death. Then of course, there are the “apps”, or in this case, the lack thereof. While for Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android OS, if you code for the phone, you can easily revise your code and deploy on the tablet (though admittedly, tablet specific Android apps are still a rarity). Not so with RIM. RIM has no less than four operating systems in market across their product line. None of which really works together. What runs on any of their phone OSes will require a total “do over” to run on the PlayBook. As a developer evaluating which platforms will deliver the highest return on investment, the calculus looks quite bad in the RIM/PlayBook camp. One look at the PC Magazine list of the 10 best PlayBook apps will leave you feeling quite sad.

RIM should have been paying developers of the leading iOS and Android apps to have PlayBook apps ready at launch and perhaps even bundled with the unit.

Ultimately it looks like a product the engineers got totally right but the marketing side of the house didn’t think it through. A shame, it’s a nice little tablet that, in my humble opinion, is destined to be landfill.


Magnani is an experience design and strategy firm that crafts transformational digital experiences to delight users and deliver sustainable competitive market advantages for our clients.


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