The current dynamic in the tablet sector is that the Apple iPad is dominant while others are nipping at its heels -- or queuing up to enter the game.
The first significant challenges came from the Motorola Xoom and the Galaxy Tab from Samsung, both of which use the Android operating system. The next rookie being called up from the farm team-Research In Motion's PlayBook-arrives this week.
Ars Technica offers an early review. The PlayBook runs the QNX operating system, and gets a mixed review that I would characterized as more of a thumb's up than down. The good news for RIM is that the positives are in the hardware and therefore are permanent, while the shortcomings can be addressed more easily. First the good:
The Playbook hardware is quite good-it's got a great feel and robust build quality. The core software experience has some compelling features, but still leaves much to be desired. It has good support for multitasking and offers gesture-based interaction that removes the need for physical buttons. The launcher and other integrated software components offer acceptable usability and a decent look and feel.
It's not all plaudits, however. The browser is "a bit clunky at times," and there aren't many apps:
Where the Playbook falls short is its lack of functionality. It doesn't do much out of the box, and little third-party software is available. The few third-party Playbook applications that are available from the BlackBerry App World store are almost all abysmally poor. Some key features, like the promised support for running Android 2.3 applications, haven't yet materialized.
The review also notes the challenges with email and calendaring, which are fleshed out at PCMag.com.
Over at CTO Edge, Wayne Rash discusses the lack of a native email client and validates the criticism to an extent. He also describes how RIM has made the PlayBook carrier-agnostic. It seems pretty ingenious:
You can also use a BlackBerry or other Bluetooth-equipped smartphone to tether the PlayBook and provide access to your carrier's 3G or 4G connection. Because of this, the PlayBook isn't carrier-specific and you don't need a separate data plan to use it. The device will work with Wi-Fi so you don't need to use your smartphone while you're using the device to browse the Web or watch movies.
One of the next phenoms will be the Android 2.2-based Cius from Cisco, which was announced last June. Network World reports that the company began accepting orders on March 31 and will only make the device available at the end of May.
It is not, however, aimed at directly competing with the iPad:
Though it may end up being compared with the Apple iPad 2 in some enterprises, the Cius is not intended to go up against that device or any other consumer tablet. Cisco is aiming the product at business collaboration, with the ability to interoperate with the company's TelePresence videoconferencing system, the Cisco Quad and Cisco Show social-networking platforms, and the company's WebEx online meeting system.
Meanwhile, the team that everybody always keep their eyes on, Microsoft, is said-at least by UK site Pocket-lint-to be biding its time for a tablet introduction. The question is whether the tactic, which is to wait until it has something distinctive to offer, is risky in a highly competitive sector where mind share is vital.