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4/21/2011
07:20 PM
Gina Smith
Gina Smith
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RIM PlayBook All Hat And No Cowboy

BYTE Wireless Radio and teamBYTE dig into the good, bad, and the ugly of RIM's new tablet.

We dedicated this week's BYTE Wireless Radio show to one topic: RIM's PlayBook tablet.

Fritz Nelson again joined hosts Craig Johnston and me on our regular 15-minute podcast, where we conducted a fierce post launch analysis of the product

Reviews of this product have been harsh, including Fritz' own assessment. The consensus is that RIM's tablet isn't ready for the enterprise--or much else.

Is this another example of what we at BYTE Wireless Radio call the Apple Tizzy Effect?

The PlayBook doesn't include native email or calendaring, the bridge software for it is slow and difficult to find through official channels. These are among the many flaws we discussed on the show--too numerous to mention here. It's not as if RIM didn't have time to get this right.

It's even more disappointing when you consider that RIM's BlackBerry phones are the gold standard in the enterprise. Craig, my co-host, a BYTE contributor, and IT veteran pointed out that the only hope for RIM is that IT will mandate the PlayBook for BlackBerry users because of intercompatibility, but even that seems unlikely.

Is there anything good about the RIM Tablet? Fritz pointed out that the PlayBook does have some outstanding features and on the show we delved into the things that RIM did right. The nice interface is one thing--it's gorgeous, actually. Yes, it's a rip-off of HP's WebOS, but that's a good thing; it means no more awkward BlackBerry-ish folder junk. Plus, it supports Flash and its performance is great. According to Fritz, web browsing, in particular, is outstanding.

But where are the apps? Fritz and Craig pronounced what's available for the PlayBook as largely junk, and that's putting it politely. Listen in to what they actually said. Shockingly, even the RIM trademark app in enterprise, its BlackBerry Messenger (BBM), is missing.

Is there any hope for this pretty but befuddled late comer? I put that question to my seasoned team of BYTE editors and columnists, teamBYTE, which will be providing views and insights when BYTE launches in July.

"The hardware is wonderful, but the software appears rushed. Aside from the unique ability to connect to a BlackBerry over Bluetooth, it is missing many essential applications," said BYTE senior editor Seth Heringer, based in Pasadena, CA. "Does it currently compete with the iPad? No. Will it? Maybe. The tablet wars are just beginning."

Shawn Ingram, BYTE's senior editor based in New York, said he's torn: "I love the design of the OS, partially because it borrows so heavily from WebOS. But I've had the browser crash many times. I think if RIM can squash the bugs in what's it's calling a beta of the OS, it could do well.

"The device itself is really nice," Ingram added. "But I wouldn't consider buying one until there is a way to check email without using the browser. I'll probably just go back to my iPad 1."

Todd Ogasawara, BYTE's senior columnist for mobile and a government IT consultant in Honolulu, said the PlayBook "reminds me of the Palm Foleo. I tend to agree it will appeal to current BlackBerry phone users, but everyone else will buy an iPad or, maybe, an Android tablet. If (Barnes & Noble's) Nook Color becomes a full Android tablet out of the box with no rooting, it will be a serious player at the low-end," he said. There's gadget lust in those words.

Chris Spera, leader of the BYTE tips section and an IT consultant in Chicago, smacked it down. "Who are they kidding? Heck, even the native BlackBerry apps aren't finished yet," he said. "RIM is struggling to find a place in a mature market--and its initial offering is unfinished hardware, unfinished developer tools, and unfinished or missing PIM apps."

Eric Finkenbiner, senior BYTE commentator and a business analyst at JP Morgan Chase in Columbus, OH, said, "My users are going to ask for an iPad over this device." The restrictions are limiting, he added, noting that RIM is going to have to make some bold fixes or fall hard in the enterprise. "I'm seeing more and more people that I support looking for ways to get rid of their BlackBerry (devices) and instead use Android/iOS either via a company owned phone or a personal device."

I agree with Eric that users in the end are going to revolt and bring in what they want, and IT needs to deal with that. You are either on the horse, or the cowboy's taking off without you.

In all, teamBYTE was a lot tougher on the PlayBook than some readers have been. As a group, teamBYTE exhibited total vitriol at what they viewed as rushed work and poor value in the long-awaited Playbook.

By the end of this episode of BYTE Wireless Radio, Fritz, Craig and I had reached a verdict about whether you should buy this version of the PlayBook for you or your users. The answer was painfully clear. Sorry, RIM.

Listen to our regular show for more details and commentary on the PlayBook. For the upcoming BYTE, InformationWeek, and Techweb, I'm Gina Smith.

Gina Smith is launch editor of BYTE, coming in July. Follow her on Twitter @ginasmith888 and BYTE @BYTE.


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