Black Tidings: Playbook May Ship Without Key Features

BlackBerry's PlayBook has raised eyebrows and gotten attention from all corners since the company unveiled it early last fall. We've had a bit of hands-on with the unit and covered BlackBerry's attempts to improve the tablet's attractiveness by running Android aps (albeit imperfectly) on its QNX operating system.

If a leaked PDF is accurate, the PlayBook is in a great deal of trouble. The system's hardware is fine, with storage options ranging from 16-64GB and 1 GB of memory, dual 1080P cameras, and a dual-core 1GHz CPU. It's the software—or more precisely, the lack thereof—that could sink the device.

A Bridge Too Far

The document references a secure Bluetooth connection (dubbed BlackBerry Bridge) that's meant to provide users the ability to "seamlessly and securely view email, PIM, and BBM content that resides on or is accessible through their smartphone." BlackBerry Bridge sounds like a useful perk, until a few paragraphs later. We quote:

When connected via BlackBerry Bridge, the smartphone's email and PIM content (BIS and BES) is viewable on the tablet. Users can also respond to messages, etc. The content actually remains stored on the BlackBerry smartphone and is only temporarily cached on the tablet (and subject to IT policy controls if the smartphone is on a BES). When the BlackBerry bridge is broken, all that data is wiped off the BlackBerry PlayBook.
The included FAQ states:

Q. Will Apps such as email, contacts, calendar, etc. be available natively on BlackBerry Playbook?

The BlackBerry PlayBook feature creates a secure Bluetooth link between a BlackBerry PlayBook tablet and BlackBerry smartphone... In addition, users can access their email via the BlackBerry PlayBook's web browser without any need for a BlackBerry smartphone... A future software update... will also provide native email, calendar, and contact apps for those customers who prefer to have these apps directly on the tablet. (Right. Because checking email is such a niche feature. -Ed)

RIM is starting to look a bit like a Looney Toons character who charges off a ledge and into thin air. There's no such thing as a 3G PlayBook—if you want that feature, you're stuck tethering a BlackBerry. There's an Android app emulator, but its compatibility is limited.

We were impressed with the PlayBook when we first saw it, but the final product may still have problems.

RIM's marketing department has always portrayed BlackBerry devices as powerful tools that helped customers sort through confusing communication or work effectively while on the road. It's hard to channel that concept when your typical user is juggling a phone in one hand and the PlayBook in another. The idea of doing so cuts against the usefulness of a tablet in the first place.

It's beginning to seem as though RIM is pursuing a "launch at any cost" philosophy that's not going to work with world+dog launching tablets at the same time. In such tight conditions, RIM needs the PlayBook to stand out positively, not sink under its own weight.