Thursday, May 05, 2011

Was I Wrong About The Blackberry?

Six months ago, it looked for all the world like RIM, the makers of the Blackberry phone and messaging system, were DOA.  Their phones were dull, their operating system tired, and their plans for a tablet were very very late to market.

The Blackberry Playbook - Image from ETC@USC

Something happened two weeks ago that changed my mind.  I got a chance to play with RIM's new Playbook tablet.  And it was great.  The Playbook is the single best tablet on the market today from an operating system perspective.  The iPad2 still beats it for hardware and app selection, but the Playbook stands head and shoulders above competing offerings on the Android platform.

In addition to very good hardware, the Playbook runs a new operating system called QNX that RIM purchased last year.  It handles mult-tasking was ease and RIM has also invested heavily in the user interface experience.  The result: a slicker, smoother multi-tasking interface than anything else on the market.

RIM has more than 3,000 applications ready for the Playbook, about 30 times more than Android tablets.  And the QNX O/S is headed for their phones too, probably sometime next year.  Early reports suggest that the Playbook is selling well to the core Blackberry fan-base, better than any Android tablet (though that's a low bar).

The result: though painfully slow in their transformation, RIM shows signs of getting it done soon enough to avoid irrelevance.  Additionally, the success of the Playbook may become critical, in the end, to their survival.  It's increasingly clear that smartphones are not islands.  The are just the smallest item in the ecosystem.  Smartphone ecosystems like Apple and Android have tablets and that's a critical strength.

By contrast, Windows Phone 7 has no tablet planned, which is a shame, unless Windows 8 turns out to be much slimmer and tablet friendly.  HP has WebOS in both phone and tablet form, but HP's tablet is even later to market than RIM and it doesn't have a loyal Blackberry user base on which to build.

Though I'm a diehard iPad user myself, with over 100 applications on my iPad2, I must admit to looking at the Playbook with some interest.  A 10" version and some good note-taking software will seal the deal for me.

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