Is the Blackberry Playbook A Threat To the iPad?

By James Mowery

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The iPad has some new competition on the horizon. It comes in the form of Research In Motion’s Blackberry Playbook, and it might actually be a noteworthy competitor to the iPad. But will it be a real threat?

It depends. From what I have seen on the surface, the Blackberry Playbook is an impressive looking product. It features a great interface that is comparable to the flash and flair that the iPad offers. But what really matters is something that can’t be measured or analyzed at this point in time.

What is that, you ask? Support from third-party developers.

Does Research In Motion have the support of developers to help create compelling applications for the Playbook? We will have to wait and see. But from what I have seen right now, it looks like RIM might have reason to believe they can bring it to the iPad.

Introducing Blackberry Playbook

RIM’s Blackberry Playbook is the company’s first attempt at creating a tablet. It is an ambitious project for RIM, as the company has seen better days in the past. Now, with the iPhone and Android devices chipping away at RIM’s previous smartphone dominance, the company has bigger ambitious — to dethrone the iPad. It will have its chance to do so on April 19, when the Blackberry Playbook goes on sale.

So, what does the Playbook offer? The Playbook, from afar, looks like a blend between an Android, webOS, and iOS operating system packaged in a Samsung Galaxy Tab-like chassis. But this isn’t a bad thing. It’s actually quite impressive.

From a hardware standpoint, the Playbook much smaller than an iPad. It boasts a 7-inch screen compared to Apple’s 9.7-inch screen. The iPad is thinner than the Playbook. In the end, users who want a larger screen will prefer the iPad while those who want something smaller might be inclined to take a look at the Playbook.

Aesthetics matter, and the iPad does look gorgeous. The Playbook does not feature the sexy curves and form that the iPad does; however, the Playbook does great for what it is. I have not had the opportunity to get my hands on the Playbook, so I won’t comment on the feel of the device. But from what I have seen on video, the iPad does win the beauty contest.

Things get more interesting when you compare the operating systems. The Playbook has an operating system that seems to combine the best of what Android and webOS offers. For example, the Playbook features a slide-up window for navigating all of your applications, which is similar to Android, and a card-like interface for viewing different applications and even interacting with them from the home screen, which was what webOS was known for.

When you are in an application, you can slide down an overlay from the top to bring up more settings and options or you can slide up to move the application back to get an overview of all running applications. Slide up an application from this window and it will go away (again, like webOS).

But the really impressive bit is the powerful multi-tasking capabilities that the Playbook has shown off. It is possible to have full 3D games, HD videos, camcorder apps, and more going on all at one time while still being able to interact with other applications like music and other things. Of course, I don’t see the point of having all those applications open at once, but you can do it if you want to, if only to show off to your friends.

And then there are the applications. I’ve checked out a few of the applications, and from what I have seen they are very well made. They behave as one would expect, and they seem to be of higher quality than some of the apps you would see on, say, Android. There were some games on display that also looked impressive, like Tetris and Need for Speed [CHECK]. But for the most part, everything seemed to look fine.

Of course, these applications were obviously developed with the help or guidance from RIM and/or being shown off because of their quality. There is no real evidence to suggest that all of Playbook’s applications will look this good, as I’m sure is the case for all tablet applications. We will have to wait to see what other developers will produce.

And finally, while talking about other developers, the support of developers is one of the primary factors that will determine the success or failure of the Blackberry Playbook. Without developers, no platform will succeed. The technically impressive webOS by Palm (which is now owned by HP) is the perfect example.

But can RIM win them over?

Success = Third-Party Developers

I will admit that the Playbook is an interesting product, but nothing I say (or anyone, for that matter) will be relevant until the product is out on store shelves and has had a few months to mature. Only then will we have a decent idea of the future of the Playbook. Because the success of RIM’s tablet depends on other developers to propel it to success.

But, interestingly enough, RIM has thrown us a curveball — Playbook will be able to run Android applications! To be honest, I was shocked when I heard this. I had mixed feelings: would this help or hurt the Playbook’s chances? Wouldn’t this discourage creating native Playbook apps? Would it help convince consumers to adopt the Playbook?

So many questions…

But if Android developers see Playbook users starting to use their Android applications, those developers might be inclined to create native Playbook applications. This could be good, as it will give developers incentive to develop for the Playbook. But it could also backfire; if a developer can produce one app for Android and have it run on Playbook, why bother creating a completely new app for Playbook? It’s really a double-edged sword.

But it is an interesting experiment that I want to pay close attention to. There is no doubt in my mind that competition in the tablet arena would be good for all consumers, even those who side with Apple.

Should Apple Be Concerned?

Apple needs to watch closely to see how the developer community reacts to the Playbook. Apple needs to see if developers are interested in developing for the Playbook and if the big names are willing to produce applications for it. For example, without the support of social platforms — think Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, GroupMe, etc. — Playbook has no hope of winning over the masses.

So, for now, there isn’t much Apple can do — aside from launching the iPad 3 or announcing some new amazing product around the time the Playbook is released, which is highly unlikely — to alter the success of the Playbook. Either way, it looks like the Playbook will have a month or so to prove its merit, and it all goes down on April 19.

About James Mowery
James Mowery is a passionate technology journalist, entrepreneur, and Apple enthusiast who has written for various top-tier publications like Mashable, Techi, and CMSWire. Follow him on Twitter: @JMowery.

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