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

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Some intriguing developments
Still, the PlayBook has some interesting capabilities that could appeal to users and should be examined by competitors:

  • Phone tethering. You'll be able to tether a PlayBook to a BlackBerry via Bluetooth, using its 3G data plan to access the Internet; Wi-Fi is also supported. That tethering is something the iPad would benefit from (so far, AT&T won't allow this), as would the coming Android slates, which may or may not support tethering, based on carrier restrictions. But you won't be able to use the PlayBook directly over a 3G connection -- you must have a BlackBerry to do so. That's a self-interested choice by RIM that will backfire, as it unnecessarily locks users into specific phones. It would have better to have a Wi-Fi-only version for use in secure IT environments (such as hospitals) and for use in homes as entertainment devices, and a separate Wi-Fi-plus-3G version for those who need conectivity everywhere -- in other words, the dual versions Apple did for the iPad.
  • Mirrored BlackBerry. The Bluetooth tethering also lets the PlayBook act as a larger screen for a BlacKBerry, providing access to the BlackBerry's apps and data in a sort-of mirroring mode much like attachig a larger monitor to a laptop. This is the only way to "run" BlackBerry apps on a PlayBook, though doing so means burning through battery life on the two devices. While it probably doesn't make sense for iPads to mirror iPhones -- they can simply run the same apps and access the same cloud-based data, after all -- or for Android slates to mirror Android smartphones, the concept could be used by other mobile devices to dock them to monitors and input devices such as when working at someone else's office.
  • Multicore processing. The PlayBook's 1GHz processor (RIM won't say which processor it is using) is multicore, which means that the PlayBook will be able to run multiple apps simultaneously and share the workload across the two processor cores, like a desktop PC or laptop does. That should make multitasking smoother than what most mobile devices today can do. Apple's iPad won't support multitasking until November, and then only for apps designed specifically to use Apple's multitasking API.

I have no doubt that the PlayBook will find an audience. BlackBerry afficionados -- especially those not abandoning the platform for more modern devices -- will give it top consideration for sure. But it'll be the core BlackBerry audience, which is not growing. The iPad has too much going for it, even with its limitations, and Android's snowballing strength means it's the platform that will get carriers' and users' focus as the non-Apple alternative.

The PlayBook would have been an amazing device a year ago. Today, it looks like a shrunken iPad clone that is betting on Flash support and USB ports to get a user base -- rather than the apps that ultimately create user joy and loyalty.

This article, "Why RIM's PlayBook is no iPad-killer," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Gruman et al.'s Mobile Edge blog and follow the latest developments in mobile technology at InfoWorld.com.

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