When Research in Motion announced its PlayBook this week, at first it looked like it might be an Apple iPad wanna-be. That first impression turned out to be wrong. The PlayBook is about as different from the iPad as a tablet can be, and still be a tablet device.
The most obvious difference is that the device depends on being paired with a BlackBerry smartphone for its 3G connectivity. Less obvious is its ability to work in a BlackBerry Enterprise Server environment, its dual-core processor supporting the multi-tasking QNX operating system, and dual cameras to support video conferencing. While the device looks a little like an iPad, and while it does some things like use internal accelerometers to orient the image, it's really a BlackBerry add-on.
Unlike the iPad, the PlayBook is advertised as being enterprise-ready, with enterprise-class security and communications. A look at the Playbook website reveals a series of features that make up the device, a list of specifications, and a video of the device in action. One key feature that's mentioned, but not stressed, is that the PlayBook apparently depends on a Bluetooth link to a BlackBerry smartphone for a number of functions. Exactly what the capabilities without a BlackBerry are isn't made clear, but it does have access to the outside world using Wi-Fi.
The ability to tether to a BlackBerry device using Bluetooth may be RIM's way of getting around the need for a wide variety of 3G radios in the device, and nothing more. Of course, it also lets the tablet sync with whatever's on the BlackBerry. Clearly, until someone gets their hands on one of these, there's no way to be totally sure how this all fits together.
What's also not clear is application support for the PlayBook. RIM has an app store for BlackBerry devices, but it's nowhere near as comprehensive as the stores for Android or iOS devices. On the other hand, applications for BlackBerry devices don't need to come from RIM-anyone can create a BlackBerry app and send it to their device. It's likely that the PlayBook will be open to outside apps, as is the BlackBerry.
The availability of applications for the PlayBook will be very important to its success. There's no question that RIM will create at least some enterprise applications for the device, but the real issues will be the range and quality of applications. Because the PlayBook can't run applications designed for the BlackBerry smartphone, this will have to be an all-new effort.
So the secret is out-there really is a RIM tablet device. But seeing a demonstration video and a spec sheet doesn't tell you how well the device will work in the real world. For RIM's sake, it needs to work well and sell well in the real world. If the reality is as cool as the demo, perhaps it will.