Research in Motion’s PlayBook offers a pleasing UI, but battery and connectivity issues could hold it back in the enterprise market
BlackBerry maker Research in Motion announced its 7-inch PlayBook tablet, aimed at business users, in September 2010. RIM representatives were out in force at Mobile World Congress, demonstrating the device which it hopes will prove to be a true competitor for Apple’s iPad in the enterprise market.
The PlayBook has out-of-the-box compatibility with BlackBerry Enterprise Server and corporate data access, making it well-suited to business use. The 1 GHz dual-core processor with multi-tasking capabilities and fast browsing also offers professional-grade performance. Meanwhile, the device has HD display and stereo sound, providing a rich media experience.
The PlayBook’s sleek design and small form factor are both appealing, and this video demo backs up our initial feel that the UI is user-friendly. RIM has opted for an apps-based homepage, like the iPad, which offers a familiar navigation experience.
This is such a familiar model, only an experimental OS like MeeGo (see our MeeGo MWC video) really has the space to try out a different look-and-feel.
The PlayBook’s multi-tasking implementation looks good to us, and RIM has provided a good means to manage all the apps that are running, quickly closing unwanted ones and opening new ones. During use, applications that are running appear as panels in the centre of the screen, allowing users to quickly flick between them.
Poor battery life
However, there is one major drawback to RIM’s tablet – its battery life. Users of the PlayBook cannot expect to spend more than four hours using the device, according to a company representative, (compared to 6 hours for the Samsung Galaxy Tab and 10 hours for the iPad). When this issue was brought up at the end of last year, RIM claimed to be working to improve the battery life, but there seems to be no obvious improvement as yet.
Rather than running RIM’s freshly redesigned BlackBerry 6, the PlayBook runs a new mobile OS based on software from QNX, which RIM acquired in April from Harman. The latter had used a version of the OS in millions of vehicles, infotainment and telematics systems.
This new OS could also be at the source of the PlayBook’s battery woes, according to Kaufman Bros. analyst Shaw Wu. “Keep in mind that QNX wasn’t originally designed for mobile environments but rather for devices like network equipment and automobiles, where battery life isn’t as much a constraint,” he said.
This is despite the fact that the current version of the PlayBook is Wi-Fi only, offering no 3G connectivity. While some user may not consider this a problem, it could be a deal-breaker for many executive users. The device can, however, connect to a BlackBerry smartphone using Bluetooth, and get 3G access using a BlackBerry as a modem
RIM says it plans to launch two BlackBerry 4G PlayBook tablets in the second half of 2011, with LTE and HSPA+ wireless networking, alongside existing plans for PlayBooks supporting Wi-Fi and WiMax. Mike Lazaridis, president and co-CEO at RIM, said this would allow “enhanced business opportunities for carriers and developers and unparalleled mobile experiences for users.”
The apps question
As with many of these devices, a lot rests on the applications ecosystem, giving Apple a clear advantage over its competitors. There are currently very few developers working on the QNX platform, but there has been some suggestion that QNX devices could run BlackBerry OS and even Android applications.
There are no physical buttons on the Playbook and, as the video shows, closing windows with an upwards flick can be temperamental. It is easy to open a window when you mean to close it and vice versa. However, overall the user experience is good, and could well see enthusiastic uptake when it launches in the second quarter of 2011, as long as RIM can resolve the battery issue.