Dan Rowinski's Mobile Platform

By Dan Rowinski

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BlackBerry PlayBook is a good subject, but is it a good tablet?

During my time at 1105 Government Information Group, the device that has come to define my beat has been the BlackBerry PlayBook.

It is perfectly situated for a government technology news writer. It is from Research in Motion, which makes BlackBerry smart phones, which are pervasive in the government. It is part of the cool new wave of tablet PC technology. It is from a company that desperately needs a refreshing product. It has had tons of rumors since it was announced last fall. And it has the potential to be a very significant device or a complete dud, the product that starts RIM on a death spiral.

In short, from a government enterprise IT writer's perspective, it has been fascinating.

And it continues to be intriguing, now that it is four days from its official launch date of April 19. 

Related stories:

Will the BlackBerry PlayBook score with feds?

It’s official: BlackBerry PlayBook will run Android apps

The PlayBook has been and probably will forever be a work in progress.

People wonder how Apple delivered the iPad as a game-changing finished tablet right off the bat last year and why the competition cannot seem to catch up. The thing about the iPad is that there is probably only one company in the world that could have pulled off tablet technology the way Apple did. It was a perfect storm of factors: CEO Steve Jobs’ obsession for decades with tablet computing, the remake of the company in the late 1990s (when Jobs came back) to focus on the uber-cool side of consumer tech, and the growing pains of the original iPod, which translated into the killer device known as the iPhone.

You could say that, more or less, Apple had been heading straight toward the iPad moment since 1984, with the last decade being a wildly successful crash course in how to create runaway product successes.

BlackBerry? Not so much. RIM went from PDAs to PDAs that did voice and e-mail securely and caught on in the C-suite before trickling down in the early to mid-2000s to the rest of the enterprise. For years, RIM’s innovations have been focused on security, the enterprise and communications — improved contacts, conferencing, BlackBerry Messaging etc. The trajectory that took Apple to the iPad is just not the same for RIM or any other of the up-and-coming tablet makers.

With regard to government, it was important for RIM to beat Hewlett-Packard’s WebOs TouchPad to the market. HP is No. 12 on the Washington Technology Top 100 list of federal contractors, and the company is very strong in enterprise. Traditionally, the companies have been operating in parallel, BlackBerry on the mobile computing side, HP on the laptop/desktop PC side. But when HP bought Palm in April 2010, it was a clear signal to RIM that the computer behemoth was coming for BlackBerry’s lunch.

The hope for BlackBerry is that certain missing features — initial lack of an application ecosystem, native e-mail, and apps for a calendar and contacts — do not become a sticking point for people, even if those features become available in a month or so. BlackBerry Bridge syncs a BlackBerry phone to the tablet and provides all of that functionality, and since the beginning, RIM has said “we have 55 million loyal customers. We think the PlayBook will be a hit with them.”

The reviews have been mixed on the PlayBook. A lot of people like a lot of things, especially the hardware — except for, oddly, the power button — and, from an enterprise perspective, BlackBerry Bridge.

Those who are more consumer-oriented find it to be a train wreck. Both sides have valid and distinct points. The hardware potential and the QNX operating system give the PlayBook one of the highest ceilings of all tablets. It will eventually be able to run BlackBerry and Android applications and, if it can run Android well on its virtual machine, can make Honeycomb tablets look foolish.

On the other hand, developing for the PlayBook is a giant pain in the butt. At CTIA in March, a lot of software developers said there is really no reason to develop for BlackBerry because the payoff just is not worth the trouble of dealing with QNX and all of RIM’s hoops that developers have to jump through — BlackBerry still takes security very seriously. 

So it is fitting that the PlayBook is some of the big news right now. It is the device that ushered me in to Government Computer News and…it is the device that will usher me out.

Yes, "Mobile Platform" readers, this will be my last post. I am taking a job at technology blog "ReadWriteWeb" to write about consumer Web trends and applications. I will miss everybody at 1105 and am thankful for the opportunities I was afforded here. From talking with CIOs and CTOs of agencies and corporations to trolling about for applications to help the federal enterprise worker, it has been great, and I thank all of my editors and readers for sticking around. I will remember you.

And so, the final Dan’s Device of the Week: The BlackBerry PlayBook.


Posted by Dan Rowinski on Apr 15, 2011 at 12:19 PM


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