PlayBook 2.0: Is This the Best RIM Can Do?

by Steve Wildstrom   |   February 24th, 2012

UPDATE: On about the 10th try, I finally got both the personal hosted and corporate Exchange accounts working. I have no idea why the setup failed repeatedly and an identically setup eventually worked. I’m hoping for some explanation from RIM.

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If any evidence is still needed that one-time leader Research In Motion has become hopelessly uncompetitive in the mobile computing market, there’s no need to look any further than the BlackBerry PlayBook 2.0 software. Its flaws are not only enough to leep it from gaining traction in the tablet market, but  bode very ill for the next generation of BlackBerry handsets based on the BlackBerry 10 operating system.

PlayBook screen shotThe relatively few folks who bought the PlayBook have been waiting patiently for nearly a year for a software update that would make the 7″ tablet usable. The version 2.0 software takes them about halfway there, not remotely good enough in a world where Adroid tablets are steadily improving and Apple is readying a new version of the iPad that will doubtless increase its already huge lead over the competition.

The most surprising thing is RIM’s failure to get messaging even close to right. The PlayBook has finally gotten a native mail app, meaning it now longer must be connected to a BlackBerry handset through the Bridge app. The trouble is that the mail app isn’t very good.

PlayBook mail does not work with RIM’s BlackBerry Enterprise Server for corporate mail, contacts, and calendar. For that, you still need to use Bridge. In theory, it can connect to Microsoft Exchange accounts and I know who users who have done so. But I ran into repeated failure connecting the PlayBook to either a corporate Exchange account or a personal hosted Exchange account (picture), both accounts that I have set up on iPhones with no difficulty.

The standard internet mail is also sorely deficient. I was able to set up an IMAP mail account without trouble, but the PlayBook app displays only my inbox, not any of my folders. There is a separate Gmail app. but it turns out to be nothing more than a link to web Gmail.

BlackBerry Messenger, another signature RIM product,can also be used only with Bridge, although RIM promises that a native client will be available eventually. The PlayBook mail app can be set up to include Facebook mail and Twitter direct messages. But there is still no proper Twitter app for the tablet. That tantalizing Twitter icon on the home screen again proves just to be a browser link.

This is sorely disappointing, because the the PlayBook is an attractive piece of hardware, especially at the $199 (for the 16 MB version) fire sale price. It has an excellent user interface, reminiscent in some ways of the lamented Palm webOS, and excellent display, and good battery life.

The lack of third-party apps is a serious problem, but the real issue is RIM’s failure to deliver proper messaging. From its beginnings, BlackBerry has meant messaging and this remains its fundamental selling proposition. Without world-class mail or BlackBerry Messenger, the PlayBook simply has no competitive advantages and many  drawbacks.

Worse is what appears to be the reason for PlayBook communications deficiencies. BlackBerry Messenger and BlackBerry Enterprise Server were designed to work with the peculiar software environment of the Java-based BlackBerry OS. RIM has never successfully ported these services to other OSes and it looks like they are having no success bringing it QNX, the RIM-owned OS at the heart of both the PlayBook and BlackBerry 10. That leaves the BlackBerry reliant on Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync for enterprise mail. Even disregarding my unfortunate experience, Exchange ActiveSync is something Apple  already does really well, though Android still needs either OEM modifications or third-party software to handle it. If this is the best RIM can do nearly a year after the original release of the PlayBook, I’m afraid they have run out of time.

 

Steve Wildstrom

Steve Wildstrom is veteran technology reporter, writer, and analyst based in the Washington, D.C. area. He created and wrote BusinessWeek’s Technology & You column for 15 years. Since leaving BusinessWeek in the fall of 2009, he has written his own blog, Wildstrom on Tech and has contributed to corporate blogs, including those of Cisco and AMD and also consults for major technology companies.
  • BBPBFan

    I’m sorry, must I need native email, and a calendar to have a useable tablet? I think not. Secondly, you obviously do not do your research. The playbook OS 2.0 is the bare bones of what BB 10 will be. Cascades and other improvements are on the way to BB10. Throw in the amazing way in which RIM has incorporated social media into calendar, email and contacts, and you hhave a damn good phone.

    Do I really need tao have access to hundreds of thousands of apps, most of which I probably wouldnt use on a regular basis? No. No i do not. Sure it would be a nice to have, but frankly it does not make or break my purchasing decisions…

  • Bob

    One has to wonder if the author has really even seen Playbook 2. The email app isn’t very good? It is considerably better than Android’s; the UI certainly compares well with iOS, and the thing has features that are quite unique (the social media integration, particularly with LinkedIn, is really good.)

  • homer

    You must be using a different tablet. My gmail account is integrated into the universal inbox (along with my Yahoo account and my Facebook). I have to wonder how much you actually used the new OS.

    • http://www.facebook.com/steve.wildstrom Steve Wildstrom

      Yes, you can set up Gmail, but only as a standard IMAP account, meaning you don;t get any of the special features of Gmail that you would with a proper app. Also, as with my other IMAP account, the PlayBook displays only the Gmail inbox, not any folders on the server.

      • Peter

        If you would like I can send you a screenprint of all my gmail folders on my Playbook. Also all my Livemail folders. All sync’d provided there are emails younger than the sync timescale. It’s corporate exchange active sync that has the problms of emails disappearing whilst on wifi – that will hit business users.

  • Guest

    I connected my Playbook 2.0 to my corporate LOTUS DOMINO email account and my personal POP mail account without issue. The messaging app works great. Just because you had an issue, don’t discount the platform. My wife has an iPhone which frequently locks up and sometimes people on the other end of a phone call can only hear her when it’s on speakerphone… Should I post a scathing article about IOS on that?

    • http://www.facebook.com/steve.wildstrom Steve Wildstrom

      Note the updated post. I did finally get Exchange working through ActiveSync. However, that doesn’t much change my overall judgment of the PlayBook. BlackBerry’s competitive advantage is BES and BBM. Without them, it’s just a mediocre smartphone or tablet.

  • IKILLa

    This site is a joke lol. This author obviously picked up the playbook for 2 seconds scratched his head and wrote the stupidest article ive read in my life, bro please do your research, im tired of these idiots coming out with reviews on products they know NOTHING about. All my mail, calendar, contacts r synced and working great, not that it matters. Stop the negative uneducated press.

  • Al van der Laan

    I might add that the writer of the article really should re-read the article and take out grammatical errors. Truth be told is that the OS2 upgrade still has some flaws; I expect that we will see smaller patch releases. Also the connections to Exchange servers do work but who needs that if the bridge works flawless? One major risk for allowing such connections is the safeguarding of the information on the device. I did lose another 7 inch device a while back and decided to go for the PlayBook now that it is able to run Android apps and still have all the other benefits of a 7inch device that is thin enough to fit in my inside pocket of my coat.

  • SayNoToOldTechAuthors

    Author has no idea what he’s talking about. I put over 1k hours on my device in the last ten months so its been pretty “usable” for me. 2.0 is icing on the cake.

    Note to crappy authors: use a device (more than give minute) before you write a review. I have a Galaxy 7″, iPad, and a PB. The PB wins (and has from day one) hands down.

    Bridging data to your car, home, PC, and tablets is the future. Techtard tech-authors are annoying.

  • Chris Cameron

    “the PlayBook app displays only my inbox, not any of my folders” – are you sure? There is a small button above the message list that allows me to get to all my Gmail labels. The only thing I would lament is I can’t figure out how to get it to load more than some predefined number of emails back.

    • http://www.facebook.com/steve.wildstrom Steve Wildstrom

      You’re right, though I must say this isn’t particularly intuitive. On the other hand, clicking the same button on an IMAP account brings up only local folders, not the ones on the server. This shouldn’t be a surprise, since IMAP mail on the BlackBerry handset has the same serious deficiency.

  • Ashley Kosh

    This ‘author’ guy should have edited his title to “I couldn’t figure out email on PB right away so I went online and whined like a bitch”

    • Adperdue

      Amen to that, sister.

  • A real user

    This article is a joke and the writer is clueless.

  • xenrobia

    Does anyone remember how, prior to the 2008 meltdown, all the so called “Economists” were all in agreement with one another about how sound the economy was? We all know how right on the money that bunch of myopic morons turned out to be. What was happening with the so called “Economists” was a form of herd mentality (which I prefer to call Parrot Mentality Syndrome, or PMS, since it’s so obviously Bird Brained), where timid, slow-witted creatures group together for protection and mutual assurance. Well, I’m starting to suspect that the same thing is happening with the so called “Technology Journalists,” it’s either that, or Parrots have taken to writing Blogs, because I’m hearing a lot of the same drivel over and over again from people who’ve obviously done little, or no research (believe it, or not, Journalist used to do research) at all and then parrot what everyone else is saying; it’s kind of a safety in numbers thing. Well Steve, I’ll help you out: see that little round button on the top edge of the Playbook, yes the one beside the long skinny one. That’s the “ON” button. Once you have that mastered, we’ll move onto email.

  • AdamChew

    Wow it is not easy to write tech articles because they are so many people around except when you write an article on an iPhone at least half would agreed to the content and the other half will pour as much poison as they can.

  • Marty Young

    Isn’t it telling how ever single comment reiterated how inept the author is. Every. Single. One.

    Because it isn’t just one or two comments that are negitive towards the article. It’s ALL of them. Wow.

    I bet this Steve guy stopped reading the commets a couple days ago, and
    there’s no further point in writing one.

    I just think it’s funny that not a single comment supports him. Not surprising.

  • Nr_in_calgary

    Stupid article. Yes there are some gaps but also areas where it exceeds other tablets. Email client was easy to setup. Organizing is nice and easy. Good useful biz apps include cloud storage, evernote, remote desktop (real RDP), Web browser that emulates different PC browsers like chrome, IE, firefox and safari. I use an ebook reader and Calibre on my PC to shop dozens of ebookstores.
    Also the size is a plus for me as I seem to have my tablet with me more often than I thought, almost as often as my phone. So much so I am reaching for my Playbook more often than my phone.
    If you actually do work with a tablet the multitasking is a big help.
    One thing I don’t understand is why someone would by a Kindle Fire instead of a playbook for the price.

  • MartinJdub

    This was not an indepth, educated or well researched article by the writer…I have troubles using the term “review” to even discribe it.
    In the future, please do your home work.
    Regards
    MartinJDud

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Min-Zhu/100003101682617 Min Zhu

    RIM has strange culture and self distruct political environment.

    In RIM if a new hired person figure out major problem and introduce efficient approach, both manager and his buddy group member will proof their wrong approach works. just like someone point out driving a car is right way, pushing a car is wrong way, then both manager and his buddy group member will hate you, and proof that 3 person can also move the car by pushing it. cheating email will be sent to some vice president, saying like: see, the car moving, pushing a car is a natural part of the process, in order to deny new hired contribution of introducing skill of drive a car, they have to deny merit of driving a car.

    It is very strange company culture and strange company political environment, it promote stealing and cheating skill. RIM’s management may be a typical instance in MBA course.

    This culture deny or steal hardworking team members’ contribution/innovation, generate strange political environment, destroy RIM.

  • Running Man

    If you want all of your functionality of the Full Web version of GMAIL, then use the Blackberry web browser. You do not get this in any other tablet on the market. You have to realize that anything optimize for a tablet will lose it functionality as compared to a laptop. You should take a look at the Andriod and Apple platform before you are so negative on the Blackberry.