Why RIM's PlayBook is no iPad-killer

The demos are sleek, but what RIM isn't saying is the real news: The new 'business tablet' lacks business apps

The BlackPad -- officially named the PlayBook -- has finally exited the blogosphere's rumor mill and made its onstage debut, at yesterday's BlackBerry DevCon conference. The (carefully controlled and edited) demos are sleek, and they just scream "iPad slickness." Research in Motion touted the device's business-readiness and its support for Adobe's Flash Player 10.1 -- both intended as subtle put-downs of the Apple iPad.

But if you look beyond the slick presentation, you'll begin to suspect that there's less than meets the eye. Of course, the product isn't real yet, so the gaps the slick demos smoothed over may be fixed when the product ultimately ships. But I doubt it -- it's a rare product that lives up to the initial demo.

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Case in point: Microsoft's increasingly feature-lacking Windows Phone 7 and the whole slew of iPad competitors that shipped (or were announced) earlier this year that are already dead and forgotten. Ironically, it was the iPad that was better in its shipping version than in its prerelease demos, as Apple cannily showcased a subset of features in what now seems as a way to get people speculating to keep the buzz going.

Where are the apps?
The big miss is the set of apps available. Apparently, there are none beyond the basics that RIM provides, such a calendaring and contacts. Because the PlayBook uses a new operating system based on the QNX microkernel implementation of Posix (a form of Unix), the Java ME-based BlackBerry OS apps won't run on it. (RIM bought QNX less than a year ago.) So, BlackBerry developers and users alike must start over again for apps.

There may not be a lot of good BlackBerry apps available, but the ability to run them on the PlayBook would have been a great boon for early adopters. Apple certainly showed the value of that app-compatibility strategy in the iPad's support of iPhone apps, which gave users instant capabilities on their new devices plus gave developers an easy transition to native iPad app delivery.

Ultimately, there wil be native PlayBook apps, of course, but RIM is just now making the development platform available, giving developers little time to get apps ready in time for the early 2011 availability of the device. At that time, there'll be a half-dozen or more Android-based competitors available from Cisco Systems, Hewlett-Packard, HTC, and Samsung, with native apps long in development. And you can bet the iPad 2 will be announced in January or February and released in the spring, given Apple's clocklike release schedule.

So the PlayBook will come out fairly appless competing with the established iPad and all its apps and the slew of new Android slates and all their apps. Good luck. I've been using an iPad for a couple months now and can attest to how important native apps are to its utility -- its Web and media capabilities are great, but not sufficient.

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