RIM pulls a zombie out of the hat

I just got my sweaty hands on a RIM BlackBerry PlayBook. This is my first pass at analyzing the product and ... well, we'll get to conclusions later.

The PlayBook is a sleek device with a great screen and a comfortable heft. The screen is 7 inches with a resolution of 1024 by 600 pixels that compares favorably to its obvious competition, the iPad 2, which has a 9.7-inch screen with 1024 by 768 pixels. At 0.9 pounds the PlayBook is considerably lighter than the iPad's 1.33 pounds and overall making the PlayBook the more portable choice.

ANALYSIS: Four things RIM's PlayBook got wrong

The only thing I really dislike physically about the PlayBook is the stupid power button: For my big, banana-like fingers it is way too small and too deeply recessed to be easily accessed. D'oh.

When it comes to processing power both devices have similar specs but with different operating systems and very few noticeable performance differences, it's hard to pick a winner. Likewise with many other features, there's no clear winner (they even cost about the same).

But the big issue is that the PlayBook doesn't include an email client! This is an incredibly odd decision on RIM's part given that the device is called the BlackBerry Playbook and the name "BlackBerry" is synonymous with email! You want email on the PlayBook? You'll have to tether it via Bluetooth to your BlackBerry smartphone! Ridiculous!

Even so, I rather like the PlayBook design. A big issue is it doesn't have the humungous library of apps the iPad has but that can be addressed if RIM can get their developer program really cranking and, of course, what matters will be the availability of business apps ... that's what enterprise customers care about and that's where huge numbers of iPads are being absorbed.

Now, one thing I've seen a few other reviewers of the PlayBook get excited about is that it will run Flash-based applications. Pah!

Look, here's the thing: Flash, in its time was brilliant. It enabled programmers and designers to do things that were otherwise hard or even impossible to achieve and Flash is claimed to be installed on something like 98 per cent of all PCs.

The problem is that Flash is installed, then updated, then updated again, then updated again, ad nauseum. And despite all the polishing that goes into each release, the product is still full of security issues. What I can't figure out is why Adobe, the company that can create world-class applications like Lightroom and Photoshop, can't fix Flash!

When Steve Jobs first made it clear that Flash was not going to be available under Apple's iOS, I, along with pretty much everyone else, groaned and assumed that it was just another Apple ploy to gain market control. Now we know while that is, without doubt, part of the story, Apple's decision is actually really smart because HTML5 with CSS3 and JavaScript will be able to do everything Flash can do but will be an open and international standard. Apple's market power will just accelerate HTML5's development and deployment.

Anyway, here's my bet on the PlayBook: It is the walking dead. There aren't enough pluses other than slightly better portability to make the PlayBook a serious contender when it's coming late to the market. Add to that that no matter what RIM does, the company won't be able to adequately jumpstart a powerful enough developer market and the PlayBook's future doesn't look good.

Sorry RIM, I'd like to have seen you guys pull a rabbit out of the hat but with the PlayBook it looks like you've pulled a zombie out instead.

Gibbs can spot the undead in Ventura, Calif. Your sightings to backspin@gibbs.com.

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Mark Gibbs

Network World
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