BlackBerry PlayBook Shouldn't Be Compared to an Apple iPad

News Analysis: RIM's new tablet has received a bad rap from industry analysts and media reviewers because it's not an iPad clone. Here's a news flash: It wasn't meant to be an iPad clone.

My colleagues in the media have been piling on the BlackBerry PlayBook lately. The primary shortcoming that's been found by the writers and bloggers involved is the nearly unpardonable sin of not being an iPad.

This failure to pay homage to Vision of Steve Jobs and his belief in what should constitute a great tablet is striking many tablets. But the PlayBook is getting worse than most because it's the most unlike an iPad of all the tablets. At least eWEEK's Nick Kolakowski reviewed the PlayBook on its own terms, instead of how it wasn't an iPad.

To some extent, the Xoom suffered the same fate when Motorola and Verizon announced it in February. As nice as the Xoom might be and as handy as it'll be when it gets its 4G hardware, it still suffers the crime of being a non-iPad. It's really sad, but at least the Xoom has the advantage of its own set of rabid Android fanatics to hold up its end of the perceived argument. The PlayBook doesn't have that and worse, RIM has had to deal with a set of unfortunate public statements by senior executives that serve to make the company look as if it's out of touch.

Now, before we go any further, I have to admit two things. I own a 16GB WiFi-only iPad. I don't have a 3G device because there is no 3G where I live or work. Second, when the PlayBook arrived I was actually expecting something else, in this case a genuine Virginia ham that was supposed to arrive in time for Easter from a smokehouse in Surrey, Va. It turns out that the FedEx delivery got here first, but the PlayBook comes in a box that clearly can't hold a ham. It also doesn't look like it tastes as good as a ham, it doesn't have a brown sugar glaze and I don't have to warm it in the oven at 300 F.

But wait. Why is it that I'm comparing the PlayBook against a Virginia ham? Well, why not? It makes at least as much sense as comparing the PlayBook against an iPad, except that the iPad doesn't taste as good as the hams that Sam Edwards makes either. But in fact the iPad was designed to be a lot like the iPod Touch, except with a screen sufficiently large that it has a lot more utility for visually oriented tasks.

Originally, I bought the iPad for use while I traveled internationally. It worked well in that role, and since then I've added a complete set of Jeppesen approach plates for use when landing at airports anywhere in the world (regardless of whether the controller is awake) and I've added a bunch of weather apps and e-reader apps. I have email available on the iPad, but I never check email there.

The PlayBook is a different story. It comes with Web mail links, and RIM says that there will be an email client in a few months. But clearly the PlayBook wasn't designed as an email device. What it's intended to do, as far as I can tell at this point, is provide a larger, more useful interface for business applications than you get with the BlackBerry smartphone. While there are a couple of games installed and there are some generic apps that come with the PlayBook, the BlackBerry App World shows a significant number of business and business-related applications already available.

Unfortunately, the number of apps isn't up to what Apple has in the iPad version of the Apple App Store. But the tablet is new, it's not consumer-oriented, and it's also not an Android device so you can't use existing apps. But what you can do is use what's available to conduct business. And, of course, there's no independent email client.

My suspicion is that the designers of the PlayBook assumed that users would always have their BlackBerry smartphone within reach and didn't see the need for an email app to be a priority. I also suspect as I mentioned in this column last week, that it's taking RIM longer than expected to get email and messaging that's secure enough to meet the company standards.

So for the same reason that it doesn't make sense to compare the PlayBook against a Virginia ham, it doesn't make sense to compare it against an iPad. They are different products intended for different purposes and different users. While I think it was probably a mistake not to include BlackBerry messaging and email clients on the PlayBook, if only because there will be times when you turn off your BlackBerry smartphone, let its battery run down or leave it downstairs, that was a marketing decision more than anything. I suspect RIM now wishes it had made some other decision, but that's already behind us.

What's important now is to evaluate the PlayBook on its own merits as Nick did and decide whether it's the right tablet for your business. Don't base that decision on whether or not it's an iPad clone; instead, base it on whether or not the device does a better job of supporting your needs than another device might. Just remember, it's not an iPad. Or a Virginia ham.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...