Sunday, March 04, 2012

Home Ice Disadvantage: RIM's Playbook.

When I bought the RIM Playbook at a heavily discounted price last fall, I had to run around searching through different stores for a couple of weeks before I finally found them. I actually wanted to buy four of them, one for Jenn, one for myself, both to be shared with the boys, one for my parents, and one for a friend who always takes the kids for us when we need a night on the town.

With the new operating system loaded.
Through several ordeals with Best Buy not allowing more than one per customer (though the website said five), and having to coerce a friend to buy one for me, we finally only got three of them. Contrast this to when Jenn and I first considered buying a tablet last year, and were told by a snooty Apple employee, that we could only look at the iPads 'by appointment only'. What? I had soon after hoped that it would be my last dealing with Apple, ever (and I had never been anti-Apple, in fact I considered myself a fan). That my Employer later switched all of us to the iPhone 4S was sad irony.

I remember taking my Playbook with me to Toronto, and actually feeling ashamed when one IT guy sneered at it, saying "Why did you buy THAT? BlackBerry is dead." Why was I so bent on them, when everyone was reviewing them so poorly? Well, for one thing, it is a homegrown Canadian company, with a product to rival the Apple conglomerate. RIM held a huge portion of the smartphone market, shipping nearly 15 million units in the quarter after the release of the Playbook. Even now, when people are touting its demise, RIM still turns a modest profit, and is increasing worldwide market share, shipping 11 million smartphones in the first quarter of 2012. The question is not about RIM, but whether they will remain in the tablet market.

In essence, I bought the product because after toying around in the stores with the demos, I decided that it is a great tablet, despite the bad press. I am glad I did. This Playbook, even before the upgrade to version 2.0, was a quick little piece of machinery. I once worked for both Dell and T-Mobile doing technical support and customer care, so I've seen just about everything that can go wrong with a piece of technology. This tablet is stable, and does what I want it to.

It has its drawbacks. The native camera, in still and video, is grainy and slow to react. I advise using it only for immediate non-essential shots. It can be difficult to bridge for an internet connection through a smartphone, and older phones are not supported through this. Also, the pre-loaded book reading app is nowhere near as good as the ones available for download. I have also a friend who sent his back to RIM to have issues resolved and still hadn't received it back six months later. I still have not found a program to rival the painting program offered by Apple.

16 Gig Playbook in its case, before the upgrade to 2.0

Playbook, however, is not the only one with growing pains. All companies are still playing catch-up wtih Apple. I have briefly tried the Acer tablet that hooks up to a keyboard, and the Samsung Tablet, and the Sony Tablet, and being that they all run Android, all of them do generally the same things. They are derivative, and for the most part do what they are supposed to.

The Playbook, however, and all future Blackberry touchscreen smartphones, use the QNX operating system. This is a whole different ballgame if you're used to Android. For instance, during an overload of the resources, it drops only the app that is causing the problems. So you don't have to restart when something crashes. In fact my Playbook has only 'dropped' an application a couple of times, and has never actually crashed the OS. Never. Hopefully this speediness and ease of use is a taste of things to come from BlackBerry for their phones as well.

On top of that, with the upgrade to 2.0, all the problems with a lack of native e-mail application, and with the lack of applications in general, have disappeared. If you're thinking of buying one, make sure the reviews you read are post version 2.0, as it is a world of difference.

I use it to check my gmail, and to write my blog, play music, edit photos, and just recently scanned the pages and pages of apps in the store. On top of that, the keyboard has a new intuitive text prediction feature that is hands-down superior to the one on my iPhone. Not to mention, that with a bit of tinkering with a PC, you can alter Android apps to run on the Playbook. A tutorial is located here. There are even rumours of the ability, coming in July, of downloading them with a simple click through the BlackBerry app store.

The ability to swipe for every function, and change simultaneous running applications seamlessly, is far superior to the 4S, where that has to be accomplished by going to the 'home' button, and then retracing from the main menu. I'm not completely sure the iPad uses the same clunky navigation, but it would be wise of Apple to drop it on the iPad 4 if that's the case.

My iPhone 4S ... I have multiple issues with this phone.

So what happened with RIM?

In a nutshell, RIM lost its sexy. Back when phones were just phones, my old 8310 Blackberry was proficient at what it did, but antiquated in its interface, and the battery life was less than impressive. RIM stuck to old technology when everyone else was innovating, and caught on to the trend in smartphones and tablets late. But then, when they did enter the market, they entered it rushed, with a product whose hardware was brilliant, but was booted out the door without being dressed in all its software. It's a shame that the market drove them to do this.

Let us remember the history of electronics, where companies are written off after one or two bad quarters. Those calling it the death of RIM may not be the same people but they are definitely the same type of people who wrote off Apple just before the release of the iPod. It almost seems there's a savoring of vindication for being right, for being the first to write off a company, based on some painstakingly ferreted-out information, or inside knowledge. It seems like Nelson in the Simpsons, waiting in the wings with his annoying nasal "Haaa-haaaaaaa" in case anyone does something stupid.

I don't deny RIM needs a win. But really, it is not the end for BlackBerry if they can't. However, it may be the beginning of the end. I cant wait to see what happens. RIM wouldn't be here if they weren't a scrappy, strong company. With new leadership, and a true compass for the market, they still have a better-than-good chance of turning this around. Being a supporter feels a bit like I imagine it would being the last person defending beta back in 1985. The thing is, in hindsight we see that beta was actually better, and VHS dominated the market because of marketing and its proprietary strangle on the hardware, despite its inferiority. I'm not sure I could put my money into shares, to gamble on that, but I definitely know whose corner I'm in.

Here's hoping RIM can get their sexy back.

My wife, Jennifer's, blog can be found here:
Cleverly Disguised as Cake

And my first novel, squeakyclean, here:
eBook, pdf, mobi, epub, rtf, lrf, palm, txt
Kindle US
Kindle UK
Kindle Germany

1 comment:

  1. It is better if you try out a device before buying it, rather than just buying it outright after watching a review or something. You need to know how it feels in your hand, how it flows, how it performs in regular use. And I agree with you that, with the bad publicity being thrown at Blackberry, it would be best if people try the devices themselves instead of believing what other people say about it.

    @Kelly Brueggemann