What Apple can learn from the RIM Playbook

So maybe the iPad is the must-have cool portable device at the moment. But Apple still has a few things to learn about building the best tablet. And since trying out the Blackberry Playbook over the weekend, I have a few suggestions (not that Apple is going to listen to me):

First there is multitasking. The playbook can handle running –and more importantly, switching among apps — better, although still not as your easy as a desktop. There is an odd combination of finger swipes to switch apps, but it a lot easier than the cut-and-paste dance that the iPad has. Something as simple as browsing the Internet and copying the URL into a document is downright painful on the iPad. On the Playbook, it is just slightly annoying.

Second is a built in Samba file server, so that once you connect the Playbook to your Wifi network, you have an IP address on your network just like any other device. With Samba, you can share files and also copy them between the Playbook and your desktop with ease. The documentation could be better, though.

Speaking of copying files. Playbook suppots either Windows Media Player v.11 or iTunes to move music and videos back and forth. And you have access to your file system from the device so you can download files to the Playbook and access them from other applications. What a concept: something that we had since DOS. On the iPad, it is pretty much a closed system: you can’t browse around like you can in Windows Explorer or the Mac Finder.

The Playbook has better sound. Ironic, isn’t it? The Blackberry just sounds better with its built in speakers than the iPad in my unofficial tests.

The Playbook comes with built-in Office apps. I am typing this now on the built in word processor. I am not sure that I would want to compose a magnum opus on it, and using a Bluetooth keyboard makes the whole process much improved. Both Apple and RIM devices have a similar annoyance when you pair them to Bluetooth keyboards: you can’t bring up the on screen ones unless you specifically turn off the Bluetooth connectivity of the unit itself.

With the iPad, you have to pay extra and use either Apple’s own apps or Quickoffice. Quickoffice Presenter is not for me, I miss the speaker notes and slide ahead preview functionality that I have come to like with Powerpoint when I give one of my speeches. Still, I have used the iPad to drive a projector and for short presentations where I don’t need access to my notes it has a certain cachet.

But the Playbook isn’t perfect. Its power button is way too small and you have to hit it a few times to bring up the unit. Browsing the Web is still pretty much hit or miss: yes, you do have Flash support unlike the iPad, but some sites (such as Hulu) don’t work at all. There isn’t a Netflix client, which is a shame because its screen is gorgeous. Another frustration is the navigation buttons on its Web browser sometimes work and sometimes don’t. I ended up having to close and restart the browser to move back a page, for example. Some sites recognize the special Playbook browser and present their mobile-friendly pages (such as Google), and some don’t.

Both units require special video dongles to connect them to external monitors, and the Playbook requires special USB and power ones too. That is just downright stupid.

RIM has taken the tactic to use the Playbook as a bigger screen for its traditional Blackberry smartphone line, which is both interesting and frustrating. You download the Blackberry Bridge app to your phone and link them together via Bluetooth. Once that is done, you have access to all of your phone’s content, including BBM, contacts, emails, and your calendar. And if you pair a Bluetooth keyboard to the Playbook, provided you have enough lap space to juggle everything, you can compose a document on your Playbook’s word processor and save it to your phone and send it out over the phone’s broadband Internet connection. Or conversely, you can bring up your stored documents from the phone on the Playbook’s larger screen and make edits. This pairing to a Blackberry phone is the only way you can use a native email client on the Playbook: otherwise, you have to bring up a Webmail client.

All in all, Playbook is an interesting device. Yes, Apple could learn from RIM, but I get the feeling that we are back in time to 1988, when IBM and Microsoft were working on OS/2 and graphical operating systems were first coming of age. Why we have devices like the iPad that we can’t browse their file systems or bring up as full network clients is frustrating. Blackberry phone users should consider the Playbook if they want to leave their laptops at home and can put up with the spotty Web site support when on the road. And RIM needs to energize developers and make it easier to create apps for the Playbook: right now the choices are abysmal.

11 thoughts on “What Apple can learn from the RIM Playbook

  1. Re video output. I haven’t tried it yet but, my understanding is you only need an hdmi cable and nothing else on the playbook. Is this not so?

  2. Good comparison.
    I own both devices and concur with most of your analysis. A couple of comments. The iPad requires a special dongle for video connectivity but the Playbook does so through standard mini-HDMI. With regards to the browser, I understood that it appears as a full desktop, not mobile, browser. I’ve had no issue with accessing full webpages, though I have had it crash a few times.
    I have been using the Motorola Xoom for the past two months, the Playbook multitasking is much better. The QNX OS also feels more stable to me than Honeycomb in it’s 3.0.1 release.
    The real question, for me, is can the Playbook take the place of my laptop for most meetings and business travel and can you unlock all it’s potential without owning a BB phone.

  3. The playbook ‘sounds’ better because it has this new-fangled technology called Stereo sound. (iPad2 is still MONO – and the speaker is on the back.. so you broadcast your audio to everyone else in the room).
    Playbook uses 4 front-facing speakers. (2 on each side).

    The ‘small’ power button does not need to be used to wake up the device. Swipe up from the bottom bezel.

    • To wake the playbook, swipe from one bezel over the screen to the opposite bezel – top to bottom, bottom to top, left to right etc.

      Easy way to wake it up that’s relatively hard to do accidentally.

  4. I have the playbook and doesn’t need any special USB and video dongles, what you just need is standard USB charger used in most of the new phones but faster little bit , for the video as in the other comments said you need standard micro HDMI, and there is an amazing option you haven’t mention the playbook presentation mode which is you can connect your playbook using HDMI to a projector and have your presentation running on the projector and your are doing something else on the playbook, taking notes

  5. Thanks for all your comments. One of my correspondents writes:

    For the iPad, you press a button on the keyboard (eject on non-Apple ones) to get the onscreen keyboard to appear with iOS.

    • yes, as others have said, no special adaptors are needed. the USB is the same as on all new phones other than the iPhone. The video out uses a standard micro hdmi. If they did not use the micro sizes, the unit would need to be much thicker. But they did use standard ports, nothing proprietary. also, websites almost all work. only few do not.

  6. I need to clear two things up.

    1) You can bring up the keyboard while paired to bluetooth by just swiping up from the bottom left corner

    2) You don’t need to use the power button to turn on a playbook, you just swipe across the screen starting at one bezel to the other. The power button isn’t handy because it’s really just meant for hard resets.

    So two more points that apple could learn from rim

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