PlayBook Launches Without BlackBerry Bridge Support from AT&T

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As if the world needed more evidence that RIM rushed the PlayBook to market before it was ready, AT&T customers who jumped on the PlayBook bandwagon were frustrated to discover that the BlackBerry Bridge app is not available.

Other wireless customers were able to download the BlackBerry Bridge app and connect the PlayBook with a BlackBerry smartphone. AT&T customers who tried to get the BlackBerry Bridge app from the BlackBerry App World, though, were instead greeted with this message: "This application is not available on your device or for your carrier."

RIM BlackBerry PlayBook
The BlackBerry Bridge app required to make the PlayBook functional is not available for AT&T customers.
What's the big deal? Well, RIM's half-baked tablet lacks any capability natively to sync e-mail, contacts, and such and relies on the BlackBerry Bridge app to tether wirelessly to a BlackBerry smartphone so it can be productive vicariously through the mobile phone. A PlayBook without BlackBerry Bridge is as useless as a car with no engine, or an airplane with no wings.

In Video: RIM's BlackBerry PlayBook Is a Study in Contrasts

If you're like me, you jumped to the conclusion that this is the fault of the evil AT&T empire. AT&T never met a fee it didn't like, and it seems reasonable--based on AT&T's history of wringing every possible penny from other services like the Wi-Fi hotspot capability of the iPhone, or turn-by-turn navigation--to assume that the lack of BlackBerry Bridge is caused by AT&T wanting to make sure customers pay for that privilege. As it turns out, though, this seems like just another example of how RIM tripped over its own feet in trying to race to market with an unfinished tablet.

The official response I received from AT&T spokesperson Seth Bloom is, "AT&T is working with RIM to make the BlackBerry Bridge app available for AT&T customers. We have just received the app for testing and before it's made available to AT&T customers we want to ensure it delivers a quality experience."

It is still possible that AT&T might find a way to tax the BlackBerry Bridge tethering, but at least for today that isn't the crux of the problem. No, the problem seems to be poor planning by RIM. It is bad enough that the tablet isn't functional as a standalone device, but if RIM wants to go to market with a tablet that requires a connection to a smartphone to work, it should have worked more closely with wireless providers to make sure all those pieces were in place before the big launch.

Thankfully, if you are an AT&T customer who rushed out to grab a PlayBook, there is an unofficial workaround that will let you get the BlackBerry Bridge app while AT&T goes through the motions of reviewing the app to give it the official seal of approval.

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