Many positive and negative things have been written about the BlackBerry PlayBook ahead of its launch April 19. But so far, I have not seen any evidence that the PlayBook will offer small or home office users anything that might revolutionize how they work.
The original BlackBerry's push e-mail service enabled millions of users to unchain themselves from their desks by being able to send and receive e-mails almost anywhere they went, while RIM has yet to announce any groundbreaking new feature for the PlayBook. Moreover, if the PlayBook turns out to be just an also-ran copy of the iPad or another tablet, then the device is in trouble.
The fact that the PlayBook is competitive with the iPad memory--and price-wise with 6GB, 32GB, and 64GB capacities for $500, $600, and $700, respectively--and that it will run Android apps is not enough to get excited about. But here are some features that I would like the PlayBook to offer. If it does not, then hopefully a future tablet that RIM might one day develop will have them.
A Superior Touchscreen
The PlayBook hopefully will impress by allowing users to easily type texts or to type and click commands in a way that will simply wow them. If RIM cannot manage that, then the PlayBook will hopefully offer excellent touchscreen technology that is at least as good as what the competition offers.
After all, the Blackberry's par excellence keyboard is largely what continues to separate the device from the pack of smartphones. The thumbpad simply works well and is one reason that I still have not permanently made the iPhone switch. My typing speed on a Blackberry is about 30 words a minute. In fact, I used my Blackberry to write much of this blog post.
Unfortunately, RIM's tactile screen development track record is far from stellar when you consider how it failed with the Storm. However, RIM's development team has hopefully taken the Storm's issues to heart and has designed the PlayBook's touchscreen pad keyboard in such a way that it will dazzle users.
Easy and Simple File Sharing with PC Networks
This one will likely not happen, but it really should. The PlayBook will have a Micro USB port for PC connections, but how well will it work when syncing files with workstations? The Blackberry's track record here is dismal; its PC sync software is problematic at best. Different Blackberry models often require different Sync versions on a PC and the application just does not work that well. Really good and robust PC syncing options would be a welcome help.
The PlayBook will offer up to 64GB of storage capacity, which puts it in the realm of laptop hard disk sizes more than smart phone capacities. If users regularly save and store important data on their PlayBooks, then that means, as a matter of policy, that the data should be backed up regularly.
Hopefully, RIM will offer online backup services when or soon after the PlayBook becomes available. Better yet, I would like to see disaster recovery options so that when the PlayBook is replaced, users can sync online with an offsite server that restores not only the data but the applications as they were installed on the PlayBook during the last backup.
A Killer Battery Life
For businesses that might rely on the PlayBook as a better alternative for certain tasks compared to what a laptop or smart phone might offer, battery life is crucial, especially if the device is intended to be used throughout the work day away from the desk. So what if RIM were able to pull a rabbit out of its hat and offer 15 or even 20 hours of use on a charge? That could be a deal breaker for many small businesses. However, so far, RIM has not specified the PlayBook's battery life.
A very long battery life and the other features mentioned above would also certainly be nice to have in any tablet. But for the moment, I don't expect the PlayBook to offer many of them when it launches in just over two weeks. And to be totally honest, there is not necessarily any dire need for small businesses with only basic office application needs to invest in any tablet for that matter in place of a notebook PC. But for those small businesses that could make use of a tablet, any one of these features would be a welcome feature.
Bruce covers tech trends in the United States and Europe.