Apple iPad or Blackberry PlayBook for the enterprise?

The iPad has taken the world by storm, but RIM hopes to parlay its dominant Blackberry enterprise presence into a meaningful tablet advantage with the new PlayBook. Which tablet wins?

The Experts
Carl Howe
Carl Howe

director at the Yankee Group, says RIM’s PlayBook is a usable tablet, but it lacks connectivity and the content needed to win over enterprises already deploying the wildly popular iPad. View debate

Ima Undacova
Ima Undacova

a BlackBerry addict that has to stay anonymous because of his work affiliation, says the PlayBook is one slick device that will be a welcome addition to any BlackBerry users mobile kit, and that IT better get ready for big demand. View debate

Carl Howe

There's no catching the iPad

In deploying tablets today, corporate IT is fighting a battle for employee hearts and minds. Lured by everything from smartphones to wireless broadband support and online resources ranging from Facebook to rich App Stores, employees are increasingly reaching for consumer technologies to do corporate tasks, whether or not they have IT's blessing.

It's in this consumer-driven environment that the Research in Motion BlackBerry PlayBook arrives. The PlayBook contrasts sharply with Apple's consumer-focused iPad because it is designed for the traditional enterprise buyer, yet wants to appeal to consumers as well. The PlayBook boasts a seven-inch design that fits easily in your hand, offers a Webkit-powered browser, and unlike Apple's iPad, can play Flash-based content. Could these additional assets tip the tablet scales in favor of RIM in 2011?

While the PlayBook is a great piece of hardware, it's not going to replace iPads in enterprises this year. Why? Because the iPad is not only a better device, but it delivers a better overall connected user experience. Yankee Group defines a connected experience as being the synthesis of three necessary ingredients: the device itself, network connectivity and downloadable content.

First look at iPad 2

So when we evaluate RIM's PlayBook against the iPad using these criteria, we find that:

* The iPad is a more immersive device. While the PlayBook is easier to hold in one hand, its seven-inch screen is noticeably smaller. That means that everything from emails to movies will be less engaging on a PlayBook than on an iPad. This isn't just physical size; the iPad's 1024 by 768 pixel screen actually has 28% more pixels than the PlayBook's.

But more important than the screen size is the responsiveness of the device. Swipes and touches on Apple's iPad are nearly instantaneous, Web pages scroll and bounce from finger flicks like they were rubber sheets, and pinches and zooms feel completely natural. On the PlayBook, button sometimes require multiple presses to activate and some (but not all) Web page scroll jerkily. In short, the iPad interface feels like magic and, because of glitches in the interface, the PlayBook doesn't.

* The iPad offers more connectivity options. Buyers can choose the types of connectivity they want on iPads, be they WiFi-only, GSM+WiFi, or CDMA+WiFi. The iPad connectivity experience is seamless; if Wi-Fi isn't available, the device switches over to its integrated 3G connection. Further, iPad 3G connectivity doesn't require a multi-year wireless contract; buyers can buy 3G bandwidth using built in controls in the device itself to manage their account.

The PlayBook connectivity, on the other hand, is a step backwards into the world where connectivity was rare and hard to use. PlayBooks currently only have Wi-Fi connectivity. A downloadable tethering app allows you to piggyback on your BlackBerry's connectivity, but only if that BlackBerry isn't using AT&T. What if your mobile phone isn't a BlackBerry? Well, if your mobile phone doesn't sport a mobile hot spot, you're out of luck; the PlayBook doesn't currently offer any 3G connectivity options. Worse, if you don't tether to a BlackBerry, you have no native email or calendar client on the PlayBook.

* The iPad offers more downloadable apps and has legions of developers for those apps. Much of today's connected experience is determined by how users can tailor that experience through downloadable content. Apple's App Store currently boasts more than 65,000 apps designed specifically for the iPad, and another 330,000 iPhone apps that will run on the iPad. Because the PlayBook is based on QNX, a new tablet operating system, it has only a few hundred apps. Simple things such as Twitter clients, note taking apps like EverNote and Dropbox, book-reading apps like Kindle, or video-conferencing apps, are all missing from the PlayBook App World.

More serious, though, is the fact that there are few developers who can write apps for the PlayBook. Many enterprises will want to develop their own apps for the PlayBook, and to do that they'll need developers who have the expertise to do so. While lists more than 60,000 iPad developers today, the PlayBook doesn't even have enough registered developers to list. That's a serious problem, not just for today, but for years to come.

Make no mistake, the PlayBook is a great first step for RIM. But if a business's goal is to create revenue using tablets, the only choice today that delivers a great connected experience is Apple's iPad.

Carl Howe is a director at the Yankee Group.
Ima Undacova

The PlayBook is the right companion

The PlayBook, as introduced, isn't for everyone, but nor does it pretend to be. It is for RIM customers that already have BlackBerry's, and as such, it is an ideal extension to this enterprise business staple, a tablet that can be deployed and managed with no heavy lifting.

RIM Playbook: The first apps

The fact that it doesn't have an email client (one is coming) is irrelevant. It doesn't need one because it simply tethers to the BlackBerry (via Bluetooth) and extends those functions. Business travelers will never be without their phones, ergo, they will always have email access. What's the big fuss?

More importantly, this is a tool business travelers will be inclined to take with them because of its size. At 7.5 inches wide, 5 inches tall, 3/8 inches thick and .9 pounds (30% lighter than the iPad2), the PlayBook is just that much easier to tote than a larger tablet.

And the appeal of the basic form factor is just the beginning. Users will be hooked when they get their hands on one and appreciate the tactile appeal of the rubberized back, the amazing high resolution screen, and the wonderful UI. Say nothing of the fact that the PlayBook simplifies all the stuff they rely on their BlackBerry for - like creating, responding to and managing email and minding calendars and tasks.

So yes, business users will love the PlayBook for these core business functions, but what will make it a staple of their mobile lives are all the other goodies.

Beyond the solid build quality, what first jumps out at you is the brilliant 7-inch screen, which, at 1024 x 600, is a slightly lower resolution than the iPad2, but the pixels are crammed into a smaller space so the pixel density is higher. The screen is remarkable, especially for video, which the device handles with aplomb (thanks to the 1 GHz dual-core processor).

You can download movies (the PlayBook is available with 16G, 32G or 64GB of storage), or make your own high definition (1080p) videos with the 5 megapixel camera on the back of the device (there is also a 3 megapixel camera facing you).

But what will really win over users is the user interface.

Like the home screen on the BlackBerry, you can arrange your six favorite, most-used applications along the bottom of the screen. Taping once on an icon will open the app, which takes over the whole screen. And when you're done, you slide your finger from the black screen boarder up over the app which reduces the the app to a 1.25-inch x 2.25-inch window in the middle of the screen above the home icons.

These mini app windows accumulate film-strip like in the middle of the screen as you open apps and move about, and you can flip among them easily by just dragging your finger, which is very slick. For example, you can have a window open for email, one for the music player, another for the spreadsheet you're working on, still another with the PowerPoint presentation you need to review and then a browser window and your calendar.

Slipping among them is simple and fast (and yes, fun). This is a rich multitasking environment the iPad can't touch, and much more in tune with how we really work.

To close an application you simply slide it to the center film strip position (the centered frame is enlarged slightly), which adds a little "X" next to the app name, and taping it sends the app packing.

To access applications beyond the six sitting along the bottom of the screen you start with your finger in that lower app area and simply drag up, revealing a screen full of app icons. The PlayBook comes loaded with everything from Bing Maps to voice notes, an Adobe Reader, word processing, and spreadsheet and presentation tools.

Regarding the latter, while you can't create presentations on the PlayBook, it is easy to drag and drop them onto the device when you're connected to your computer via USB, and then use the PlayBook for playback.

In short, BlackBerry users will love this device, but IT will like it too because it is compatible with the BlackBerry Enterprise Server. This is a huge leg up for companies that already use this tool to manage fleets of mobile devices. You can add tablet support quickly and easily versus having to introduce yet another new device/environment that needs to be safeguarded.

I could go on and on singing the praises of the PlayBook, but the upshot is this: Get ready for the demand because once folks get their hands on one the word is going to spread fast.

a BlackBerry addict that has to stay anonymous because of his work affiliation.

Want more Tech Debates? Check out our archive page

Join the Network World communities on Facebook and LinkedIn to comment on topics that are top of mind.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.