I started off 2011 with a shiny new BlackBerry Torch (and loved it) and set my sights on getting the first PlayBook Tablet on my block by pre-ordering (and pre-paying) for one online. They guaranteed that I would get it via priority post on April 19, the actual release date in Canada, and I did.
Awesome! I had a big local event to attend that evening and I couldn't wait to show it off to friends and visiting dignitaries alike. The pride of Ontario, heck of Canada, Research in Motion(RIM) had released its iPad killer -- finally! To most business people, the iPad (and iPhone too for that matter) were simply NOT corporate friendly.
They had to use iTunes for one thing and were not secure or compatible with any corporate network (or so we were told). Anyone that had an iPhone and asked the company IT guy to set it up knows what I am talking about. A blank stare followed by a snicker and some vague statement about "those things violate our IT security policies."
But not the BlackBerry!
The BlackBerry was born in the corporate, Windows-dominated PC world of the 90s and coexisted as a mobile add-on to Microsoft's Outlook email exchange server. I am not sure how RIM could deliver email to a mobile device better than Microsoft (the first BlackBerrys had no phone in them at all) but they could. Fast and secure too -- and email has to be secure!!! The BlackBerry could not be beat when it came to enterprise-wide mobile email. It's what a BlackBerry did. The corporate world loved it. That's why the Playbook was so widely anticipated as a "corporate" table that easily integrates with company networks.
The hardware itself is awesome. Fit and finish and performance are admirable. It can play back 1080p videos with amazing colour and clarity. It can take nice pictures and play music. It can download apps from BlackBerry World and soon it can also run Android apps. However, 2011 was not kind to the PlayBook -- after selling (or pre-selling) 500,000 units during the second quarter of 2011, sales stalled.
Word got out pretty fast that the operating system was missing a lot of components and RIM shipped only another 200,000 units by the end of the year even though they slashed PlayBook prices by as much as 50 per cent. In comparison, it is estimated that Apple sold around 25 million iPads during the same period. Ouch! RIM's slashed prices on the PlayBook were a great deal for consumers, but not for shareholders.
All that is about to change. RIM demonstrated the 2.0 update of the PlayBook software to rave reviews at the Consumer Electronics show last month in Las Vegas. The PlayBook will now have a native email application that acts as a hub for all of your social needs, bringing in feeds from Twitter, LinkedIn, and others, and the app supports tabbed browsing, so you can view an email in one tab while writing one in another. It's pretty amazing.
After installing the update, users can also control their PlayBook with a BlackBerry smartphone, where the phone can act as a trackpad and keyboard which is especially useful when your PlayBook is connected to a television and you want to adjust the volume or put a new movie on without leaving the sofa. RIM has also given the calendar app a significant upgrade, adding support that brings in events from your social networks into one place.
The upgrade will be made available for free this month (let's hope), so frustrated PlayBook users, help is on the way!