Blackberry Playbook Reviews and the Premature OS

By  |  Thursday, April 14, 2011 at 4:54 pm

Tech critics are saying plenty of nice things about Research in Motion’s Blackberry Playbook, but nearly all the reviews end the same way: Don’t buy it.

The conclusion was predictable. Out of the box, the Playbook lacks native e-mail and calendar apps unless you’ve got a Blackberry phone nearby. There are hardly any third-party apps, and Android app support isn’t coming until the summer. In addition to missing features, some critics had problems with Adobe Flash (big surprise there), and others ran out of memory after running more than a few tasks at once.

But most reviews also note that software updates came in at a rapid pace, and many of the Playbook’s missing features will arrive in a matter of months.

Therein lies a problem with the tablet reviews of today: they all describe a product that may be quite different tomorrow.

These are crazy times for personal computing. While the last two decades have been defined by two operating systems — Windows and Mac OS — we’re suddenly seeing an OS boom thanks to Apple, Google, RIM and HP.

All of these operating systems are works in progress, more so than Windows or Mac OS. The difference in features between iOS 3 and iOS 4, I’d argue, is more significant than any new feature in Windows 7, and Apple’s updates were only a year apart.

That poses a unique challenge for tech reviews, which, if frozen in time, will quickly become outdated. This was true for Android on Motorola’s Xoom, which was criticized for buggy software, and it’s true again for RIM’s Playbook. Even Apple’s ultra-polished iPad took flak for its lack of multitasking, which was added with iOS 4.2 in November. The vast majority of reviews have not been revised accordingly, and I’m guessing RIM’s Playbook will suffer the same fate no matter how many updates RIM releases.

That may be fine for the tech-savvy. We keep up on the latest developments, and when the Playbook adds native e-mail and calendar apps, it’ll be common knowledge among gadget lovers. But future tablet shoppers who rely mainly on product reviews will read of drawbacks that no longer exist. Up-to-date reviews of tablet software are hard to find.

I’m not trying to discredit the reviews that are out there. RIM deserves the criticism it’s getting, and reviewers shouldn’t soften their verdicts based on a vendor’s promises. But given the rate at which these baby operating systems are evolving, tablet reviews need a fluid system to match.



8 Comments For This Post

  1. Everyone Else Says:

    What a horrible post, surely i hope the person who wrote this did not get paid.

  2. Jared Newman Says:

    Sadly, I did. What's your criticism, specifically?

  3. Anon Says:

    Excellent post. Some are starting to realize this. One review I read held off giving an actual star rating for the PlayBook saying that they would wait until the launch to do so. Launch is the 19th! 5 days away! And yet the reviewers felt that the OS would change significantly enough in these 5 days that it wouldn't be fair to give a review yet.

  4. David Says:

    There was a difference with iOS 3.2 and the iPad. It was feature complete when it shipped. Xoom and RIM are shipping with promises. You are, in essence, being asked to loan them money to give you a finished product.

    And look at this. It is running out of memory before the emulators are even fired up. This thing is looking like a trainwreck and I can guarantee you that they are killing the developers, probably for Subway sandwiches to work the extra hours.

  5. Anon Says:

    Apple constantly ships unfinished products. It's part of their business model.

    I will never have any need for those native functions but it amazes me that RIM thought it would be OK to leave them out.

  6. David Says:

    Almost no one ships finished products,else you wouldn't have improvements of any kind. However, I'm hard-pressed to think of any incomplete products. Here is what we said we said would be the features vs. what was actually delivered.

  7. David Says:

    There is more missing than email. You don't seem to have many apps and you are missing all the emulators. From the reviews, you are getting both software crashes and memory problems. The reviewers were also getting multiple rapid updates.

    Those are pretty strong indicators of unfinished.

    That is one *major* difference between the iPad and the Playbook. The second is that multitasking and folders were features of the iPhone, therefore the expectation was that the iPad would have the same features. That's an assumption right up there with "Apple aways ships phones in June. No June delivery? Then the iPhone is delayed." Assumptions don't count.

  8. Jared Newman Says:

    Multitasking and folders weren't features of the iPhone when the iPad was announced (not until iOS 4 was revealed in June 2010). The expectation was merely that a computing device that launched in 2010 would have those capabilities. Also, the iPad had memory problems too. Apps crashed.

    RIM never promised tons of apps or the emulator at launch. No promises broken, just promises unfulfilled.

    I totally get that if you compare the iPad and the Playbook launches, Apple released a more polished, finished product. My point is that both products shipped with missing features and improvements to be made. iOS has gotten better since April 2010. Playbook OS will get better in the coming months and years.