RIM's tablet works very differently as a BlackBerry companion than it does as a stand-alone device. We look at the two faces of the PlayBook.
The PlayBook's 'just another tablet' face
Without a BlackBerry, a PlayBook is just another tablet - though one that runs on a new operating system (BlackBerry Tablet OS, formerly known as QNX) for which there will be few applications, at least initially. It will be very much like an Android tablet in that its security and management will be substandard for most companies, offering less in that department than an iPad does.
But many businesses, and most consumers, don't need such security and manageability, or at least they don't think they do. For them, the non-BlackBerry experience on the PlayBook will be perfectly accessible. It will play Flash and YouTube videos, access IMAP and POP3 email (by far, the most popular email protocols for individuals and small businesses), surf the web, and run various PlayBook-compatible BlackBerry apps and native PlayBook apps available at the BlackBerry App World online store.
The PlayBook won't be able to communicate over 3G networks, so it'll likely be usable only within a home or business's premises - unless you use a mobile hotspot device such as a MiFi or a hotspot-capable smartphone.
In other words, it'll be like pretty much any Wi-Fi-only Android tablet. Yes, the PlayBook will have unique user interface aspects, but so far I've seen no hint of any features that will really matter to most users. Its app-switching approach is elegant, but the PlayBook prototype I briefly saw otherwise seemed to act like every other tablet.
That Androidness could be good or bad for the PlayBook: good because there's clearly a lot of interest in such personal tablets, and RIM's BlackBerry brand could help the device stand out from the sea of me-too Android devices; but bad because there will be a slew of Android devices coming from companies with strong brands such as Motorola and Samsung. Also on the minus side, consumers have come to view the Android brand as the mobile equivalent of Windows, and just as users seek Windows PCs rather than PCs that happen to run Windows, most will seek Android tablets rather than tablets that run whatever tablet OS. Of course, Apple www.apple.com/uk is the exception here: Its unique OS is a major source of strength for it in both the mobile and PC markets. But banking on being another Apple is a long-shot bet, especially for a conservative firm like RIM.
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