The PlayBook is No iPad

By Lee Kowarski
The BlackBerry PlayBook, RIM’s new iPad-competitor, has been getting a lot of press since its formal unveiling last week, but I would caution firms from jumping on the PlayBook bandwagon too quickly when it goes on sale this week.
Before I get to some of the reasons for caution, here are some of the main reasons that someone in your firm will be pressing to use PlayBooks over iPads:

  • Security – most firms have experience working with RIM on enterprise security and are comfortable that the built-in security features of the PlayBook will keep sensitive data secure. This familiarity (even more so than any real security issues) is likely to lead many firms to consider the PlayBook
  • Flash – unlike the iPad, the PlayBook supports Flash
  • PPT – the PlayBook does a far better job at displaying PowerPoint presentations than iPads

These benefits (particularly IT departments’ familiarity with RIM’s security standards) will likely lead to greater and faster adoption than may be prudent. As I’ve written before, one of the iPad’s key benefits is its simplicity. This first edition PlayBook has two key drawbacks that will make it more complex for wholesalers:

  • It does not have a built-in cellular data connection
  • It is missing basic built-in apps such as an e-mail program, a contacts program, a calendar, and a memo pad (not to mention RIM’s popular BBM chat system)

To get these features with the PlayBook, users must use it with a BlackBerry phone connected to it wirelessly over a Bluetooth connection. Once connected, these applications show up on the PlayBook via a system called Bridge. While this system may potentially provide some reassurance to security professionals, it is cumbersome and confusing (and drains the PlayBook’s battery, which already lasts less time than the iPad).
Additional challenges facing the PlayBook include:

  • The PlayBook’s screen – with less than half the surface area of the iPad’s – is less than ideal for sharing information with an advisor during a meeting
  • The PlayBook cannot run the many BlackBerry applications that are on the marketplace, requiring PlayBook-specific apps (currently ~3,000 vs. the ~65,000 tablet-optimized iPad apps and ~350,000 iPhone apps that can run on the iPad)
  • The power button is small and flush with the chassis, making it impossible to find by feel and, once located, difficult to activate (this is a bigger issue than it may sound)

From what I have read, it seems that RIM rushed the PlayBook out to get a share of the ever-growing tablet market. They have already released numerous software upgrades and have plans to improve the PlayBook via future software updates to add built-in cellular data, e-mail, contacts, calendar and more. These improvements will probably make the PlayBook far more attractive to asset management and insurance companies, but the iPad will remain the dominant tablet option for the foreseeable future and is likely the best option for your organization as you build out a mobile strategy for your sales force in 2011. As PCMag.com says, the iPad 2 remains the “clear standout in the ever-widening sea of tablets” and the PlayBook is “outmatched by competitors with more versatile and complete feature sets.”

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