Is the BlackBerry PlayBook A Game Changer?
First impressions of Research In Motion's BlackBerry PlayBook indicate that the new tablet PC is definitely capable of taking market share away from Apple's iPad though it's positioned as a mobile computing device for the enterprise rather than for consumers. Despite the relatively close match-up with the iPad in terms of specs, there are still some significant unknowns -- such as pricing -- and concerns, such as the lack of cellular network connectivity and scarcity of mobile apps. The iPad's 9.7-inch display is larger than the PlayBook's 7-inch screen, which matches the Android-powered Samsung Galaxy Tab. But while the Galaxy will be supported by all the major U.S. carriers, and the iPad 3G version runs on AT&T, the PlayBook will initially have no 3G connectivity. And, any vendor will have a hard time gaining parity with the iPad in terms of mobile apps. There's still plenty to like about the PlayBook, however, and initial reaction is generally positive. CNet's Donal Bell said, "we think it's fair to say the PlayBook isn't positioned to take on Apple as a budget alternative to the iPad. Instead, RIM's BlackBerry PlayBook is poised to attack the iPad on the basis of specs."
These specs are as follows: support for both HTML 5 and Flash 10.1, 1 GHz dual-core Cortex A9 processor, 1 GB RAM, a 7-inch screen, a front-facing 3-megapixel camera and 5-megapixel rear camera and 1024 x 600 LCD display. It weighs less than a pound. It also includes HD video playback, HDMI video output, Bluetooth 2.1, MicroHDMI and microUSB ports. PlayBook will also connect to BlackBerry Enterprise Servers. On the downside, the PlayBook will not have a cellular radio, but will access the Internet via a Bluetooth connection with a BlackBerry smartphone, though 3G and 4G models are expected later in 2011. GPS is also lacking, as are mobile apps, at this point. RIM (NASDAQ: RIMM) is building the device based on software built by QNX Software Systems, a real-time OS company RIM bought in April, that provides software for elements in everything from automobiles to tanks to fountains in front of luxury hotels. Using the tailor-made QNX OS, dubbed BlackBerry Tablet OS, is a departure from BlackBerry 6, the refreshed version of the BlackBerry OS, used in the BlackBerry Torch 9800 released in August. "With all of these specs, the PlayBook has rocketed to the top of our list of the iPad's most legitimate contenders. Of course, there are a number of details RIM neglected to mention that may make the tablet a nonstarter," said Bell in his initial assessment of the PlayBook.
Dan Frommer, of the San Francisco Chronicle, echoed the concerns of other tech journalists by saying the PlayBook unknowns -- cost, battery life, distribution model and question of whether mobile developers will embrace the QNX platform -- are significant concerns as they all play a key role in whether or not the PlayBook will be a success. Despite the beefier specs, the early 2011 launch date of the PlayBook means RIM misses this holiday season, and it remains to be seen how many consumers will wait for the New Year to make a purchase. Additionally, some industry watchers, including Frommer, believe there will be a more sophisticated model of the iPad to compete with by the time the PlayBook comes out.