Giving up on the Playbook

by Raphael Haase

Back in February at the Mobile World Congress I was really really looking forward to Blackberry’s developer event. And it was a great event. The RIM guys showed us a lot of cool things and I was somewhat impressed by them using QNX as their OS for both the Playbook and their future well-known smartphone brand.

QNX is very interesting. It’s a bit like it could be the successor of the Darwin (which Apple’s OS X is based on). It’s also a UNIX, but it is real time capable.

So I wrote on app with RIM’s Tablet Web app SDK. It was not as easy as it should be: You had to use VMWare to run their simulator virtual machine and there were a lot of steps involved in setting that up and the numerous accounts. You needed like 4 different accounts as a developer alone. And then when I got the actual device, I needed a fifth account to be able to set up the device at all (and I could not create that account for some days until it suddenly seemed to work).

But I lost motivation to do more when RIM announced that their native SDK would only be given to some people at first and would not even contain a UI library. In other words: The only native apps you’re gonna see are games and maybe some very special graphic-intensive ones.

Why does Blackberry make it so not easy and not fun for developers? And why

Also I see some grave problems from a selling proposition point of view with the Playbook:

  • The only USP it has in my eyes is that it fits well into existing Blackberry infrastructures and it keeps fulfilling admins’ wet dreams about security and centralized control. While that certainly is important, it seems like many companies still buy iPads.
  • Flash and web browsing experience: The Playbook is more feature-rich here than the iPad.  It can do Flash. But the trend goes towards HTML 5, even Adobe released a converter. And the iPad does sell very well, even though it can’t do Flash.
  • The iPad has certainly won the consumers’ hearts. But I believe that this is the real entrance into the business world. Employees will demand what they know from home. It was the same thing with Microsoft’s Windows and Office. So they will also have a hard time in the business world, too.
  • The Playbook is not done well enough: The SDK is too limited, Blackberry is annoying developers, the hardware has some surprising design issues like the power button being way too small and hard to press (that is an important button!).
  • Android runs on many types of hardware and Google starts innovating a lot faster on android.
  • RIM built an “android player” for the Playbook. Well that is nice. But as the Playbook does not have any good apps and won’t have (as pointed out above), the only reason to have a Playbook would be to run android apps. So you could just get a real android tablet right away.
  • Will all that RIM tries to cater to two kinds of groups, business and consumers, while not really serving either of them well.

To me it seems like RIM is going to be bought soon by some other company, because both their smartphones are losing ground and the Playbook does not sell very well.

I think that’s sad. I was hoping that there would be a new number three that is not Microsoft. I was hoping that a really interesting piece of technology like QNX could be one of the new cool platforms.

But it seems like the future eco system phone and tablet eco system will be dominated by Apple, Google and Microsoft.