Friday, April 29, 2011

One year from now

Let's think about the tablet market one year from now. You might not know it, but we are going to be flooded with countless Android tablets very soon. They will be ubiquitous and cheap. Remember $200 netbooks? Soon there will be scores of $200 tablets. Remember when we used to go out and buy a Windows PC? Soon we will go out and buy an Android Tablet.

Apple will stake out the high ground when a $600 dollar tablet is suddenly considered expensive. So where does this leave RIM?

They can differentiate themselves by offering a better user experience than Apple - which they are already doing thanks to some true innovation with the PlayBook and QNX. RIM needs a mantra: "New updates often!" They can offer more choice by opening up the BlackBerry Store to RIM and Android apps.

And here's the big one: By virtue of its ubiquity, Android will be a target for hackers and malware. RIM can offer better protection against these threats by creating a secure QNX sandbox for Android apps.

"Safe Android" may become an oxymoron.

More amusing: Next year 200 tablets run Android (including one that runs QNX). One tablet runs iOS. 200 tablets support Flash. One refuses.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

They Buy 'em like TV's

When I was in the local Best Buy getting a case, I decided to watch how people use the tablets on display.  They had a row of tablets lined up, all with the same prominence and shelf space. First was the RIM PlayBook, then a Samsung Galaxy Tab, then a Motorola Xoom, and finally an ASUS Eee Slate.

One by one people would come by. They would glance at the 7" Playbook and mumble something like "too small". Then they would then pass by the 8" Galaxy Tab and say "too expensive". They would pause at the 10" Xoom and say "hmm maybe". Finally, they would embrace the 12" Eee Slate (which is the same size as a cookie sheet) and say with a big smile "this is nice!"

People were evaluating tablets like they were TVs!  

The more inches per dollar -> the better the value.  

I fear this tablet thing is going to take a while to shake out :)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Pimp my PlayBook


I bought a BlackBerry branded Convertible Case the other day. It's a folding cover that also doubles as an angled stand.

I was rather surprised to discover that the case does NOT work with the PlayBook Rapid Charging Stand.  The case prevents the charger's contacts from connecting to the PlayBook.

But I am a geek so poorly designed products don't last long around me. When in doubt, I modify.  For example, here's a video of how I dealt with an iMac SSD last winter:


Fixing my PlayBook case and charging stand was easy:
  1. Cut the bottom of the case so it does not interfere with the charging stand. Don't worry. The trimmed part of the case is hidden under the genuine imitation leather flap.
  2. Trim the plastic lip on the charging stand with a Dremel tool and add a more substantial piece of wood trim to provide better clearance and stability.
  3. Case and stand now work great together.

The modified case holds my PB as firmly as before. The stand looks cool too.

I suspect the case designers didn't know about the stand and vice-versa. Don't be surprised if version 2 looks more like mine :)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

iPhone Compatibility

One of the most frequent questions I hear is: "Don't you need a BlackBerry phone for your PlayBook?"

The answer is 'no'. The PlayBook works great with the iPhone 4. My iPhone's WiFi hotspot feature lets me connect to the Internet from my PlayBook virtually anytime I wish. No fumbling. No inconvenience. No buttons to push. The PlayBook finds my phone automatically when other WiFi connections are unavailable. In fact, this automatic connection feature is too good. My PlayBook likes to connect to my phone even when it is asleep!

I have a good data plan, so sharing the phone connection is the way to go. Now my MacBooks, PlayBook and iPhone itself all use the same data plan for the base $30 / month rate.

Now that I think about it, having an iPhone is preferable. It's the geek equivalent of not putting all your technology eggs in one basket.  I can use Apple's app eco-system on my phone while I wait for RIM to deliver more native and Android tablet apps.  It's good way to handle early adopter impatience.

(Unfortunately RIM rarely mentions compatibility with iPhones or other smart phones. Too bad. Only we geeks will know how good it can be)

Monday, April 25, 2011

PlayBook for Business

After a week of travel and several presentation, my PlayBook has performed admirably.  It connected to WiFi hot spots (including my iPhone) like a champ.  The web browser has rendered every site I pointed it at. I also watched at least a half dozen legally ripped TV shows (Mad Men season 2). As a portable media device, the PB is a contender.

Now I am back in the office. I struggle to find a compelling reason to use a tablet of any kind at my desk where I have 2 full size monitors and a real keyboard,  For meetings, I have MacBook Air that also trumps most tablet functions.  I get the feeling that many people who are carrying tablets to meetings today will revert to notebook computers in the near future.

Proof? This posting took 50% longer to type versus my notebook.  That's faster than my phone but really too slow for work.  This creates an interesting paradox.  The business market for tablets is wide open.  But how big is it?  Meanwhile, the consumer market is bigger than any of us expected.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Mobile Web Sites

I note that many web sites serve up special 'mobile pages' to the PlayBook browser. Someone needs to tell their authors that this type of specialized rendering is totally unnecessary. The PlayBook shows web content properly. Geeks understand that there's no need to present the neutered content required for many other tablets.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

PlayBook Stability

Much has been written about PlayBook stability, mainly from journalists with pre-release versions. My experience has been much better after 5 days of heavy use. I had a crash on day one - and nothing since then.  Well not quite.  Yesterday, when I let relatives visit their favorite sites, the browser would repeatedly quit.  Then I tried and got the same results on sites that worked well days before.  I had not booted my PB for 3 days.  One restart yesterday fixed the problem.  We geeks don't generally believe in the boogey man and know this is a good sign of memory leaks. We also know it will be fixed in short order.  It's fair to say the PB is about as stable as my first generation iPhone.

Late last night a 250+ MB OS update was pushed to my PlayBook.  It will undoubtedly have the first of many memory and performance fixes.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Who Knew?

I have been making videos of family events for over 20 years.  When I visit my parents, I dutifully compile DVD's to present my latest productions.  I show DVD's on a big screen television yet none of my relatives pay attention for more than 30 seconds.

This trip, I simply copied a a few .mp4 and .jpg files to my PlayBook before leaving.  I was not expecting much. To my surprise my audience was riveted to the PlayBook screen. It didn't matter if I showed new content, or old videos from YouTube, people wanted to see everything. There is something about the intimacy of holding a 7" screen that grabbed everyone's interest.

My parents both turn 80 this year. They have never owned a computer and really don't care much about technology. They were impressed by the PlayBook - and never wanted to put it down.  I may have to buy a second one.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Choose Your Use Cases Wisely

Think carefully about how you will use actually tablet and you may be happier in a few weeks when the novelty wears off.

I think of mobile devices as a progression from small to large.  Each with their own strengths and weaknesses.

My phone is always with me.  I use it for running common apps like contacts , email, emergency web browsing - and oh yeah - phone calls. I have multiple notebooks for doing real work.  With 100's of gigabytes of storage, large 16:9 screen and a keyboard, notebooks can do almost everything.   

A tablet fits the narrow use case in between: I want more than my phone but don't have access to a notebook. I will never use a tablet when a notebook is available and I have work to do.  I do not need the tablet to duplicate many of the apps from either my phone or notebook  (FWIW: I typed this post on my MacBook and not my PlayBook)

The most important tablet apps are: web browser, web browser, and web browser. The PlayBook has the best tablet browser by a very wide margin (it is based on Webkit and has the best Flash tablet implementation). The PlayBook's browser will be hard to beat for quite some time. 

OK.  I do occasionally use music and video players. To play music, I just copy AAC and MP3 files to the music folder on my PlayBook. The PB music player automatically indexes and organizes everything for me.  Playing music requires no additional steps. Tara's iPad can't even copy files. And to add insult to injury, she has to sync all content via iTunes. 

Video content works the same way. I copy WMV, MPEG2 and H.264 files to my PlayBook and they just play.  Tara's iPad can only play a limited number of H.264 files.  And once again, she must use iTunes. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Aspect Ratio Matters

The iPad screen is an Apple anomaly.  It has a 4:3 aspect ratio - like 35 mm film or 50 year old tube televisions. iPods, iPhones, iMacs and MacBooks all have wide screens that are roughly a 16:9 aspect ratio.  Why is the iPad the exception?

The only explanation: Apple intended the iPad to be used vertically (in portrait mode).  They had a vision that we would all be reading magazines and multi-column newspapers on the iPad.  Oops.  It is not turning out that way.

The PlayBook has a modern 16:9 aspect ratio that lets me use larger fonts and see almost as much web content on a screen less than half the size. How is that? Using the PlayBook in landscape mode lets me see wider web pages than an iPad in portrait mode.

Movies look great on the PlayBook. Content fills the entire screen. The same movie on an iPad has black borders top and bottom.  Not the pristine user experience that Apple claims.

4:3 aspect ratios are dead. I am glad RIM didn't try to raise them from the grave.

BONUS: Here's a spy shot of the iPad 3 showing how Apple has 'solved' the aspect ratio problem

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Quick Review of the RIM PlayBook

So here is my initial review of the RIM BlackBerry PlayBook.  Concise.  No bull.  Geek centric. No apologies.  And not 100% serious either. 

The Name

The name PlayBook wins hands down.  How quickly have we forgotten the 'uncomfortable' name iPad from just a year ago?

Winner: Doesn't really count but it is funny.

The Box

Apple boxes are works of art.  Shiny and minimalist.  The PlayBox is also nice and it uses recycled cardboard which is better than shiny these days.  RIM includes a neoprene slip case that is pretty good.

Winner: This doesn't really count either but I will give a half point to RIM for including the slip cover.

Video Playback

The PlayBook can play WMV (Windows Media), FLV (Flash) and other common video formats.  The iPad plays only a small subset of specially encoded H.264 videos.

Winner: RIM 

Web Browsing

I spend 90% of my time using websites. The iPad can't show Flash content - or worse - it is forced to show limited HTML content in place of Flash.  I generally don't like Flash.  But I hate being shut out of websites even more.

Winner: RIM


Size is a personal preference  Some people like the iPad's size.  Some don't.  I have several notebook computers.  The iPad is too close in size to my other more powerful and versatile  notebook devices.  I really don't need another 11" display.  I like the portable size of the PlayBook.  I also appreciate the modern 'widescreen' 16:9 aspect ratio.  Apple chose to use a more pedestrian, 1960's style 4:3 aspect ratio.

Winner: Tie but I personally prefer the PlayBook


I think the Apple iPhone is innovative and groundbreaking.  I've had 3 of them - and have found all of them useful.  But to me, an iPad is just a bigger iPhone.  I find it odd that the iPad has the same controls and functions as an iPhone.  The iPad screen is so much bigger.  I think that calls for a different user interface in many situations.  So far, Apple has chosen to simply bring forward iPhone functions and declare them as 'new'.  The Playbook has added new gestures and functions specifically targeted at tablet users.  Apple gets the innovation mindshare but RIM is actually delivering.

Winner: RIM


Both lack SSD and USB ports.  You can't even copy a file on an iPad.

Winner:  Tie - they both lose. Tablets need much more work in this area!


When I'm not using a web browser, I use email 5 percent of the time and 'apps'  the other 5 percent of the time.  On my iPhone I have bought about 100 apps.  I use two or three regularly.  For something that is used so infrequently, I am surprised so much importance is associated with apps.  Also Apple censors apps, eliminating many competitive choices.  iPad users cannot use universal video apps like VLC or even other popular web browsers  like FireFox or Chrome (I will have much more to say about this in upcoming posts).

Winner: There are more iPad apps so Apple wins here.  I expect this to change when more open Android tablets apps arrive on the Playbook.  

Operating System

Apple says they added multitasking to the iPad this year.  In fact they added a simple task manager that is reminiscent of the 1992 version of Microsoft  Windows.  That's acceptable when iOS is  used on phones.  But on a tablet computer, iOS it is fairly lame.  Just look at the running apps  page on your iPad after a day or so to see what I mean.  The PlayBook has a new OS that does some very elegant multitasking. The task switcher has a nice 'cover flow'  view to show running applications.  Managing apps is simple and understandable.

Winner:  RIM (not even close)


The PlayBook does not include an email application.  The justification:  RIM could not get a secure business email solution running in time.  We geeks know that they could have - and should have - supplied a POP3/IMAP email client for personal e-mail.  No excuse RIM - you blew it.

Winner: Apple.

3G Wireless

The PlayBook has WiFI only.  An iPad can use 3G wireless as long as you pay for a separate data plan.  On the surface, the iPad would seem to win.  But I am a geek!  Anytime I am using the PlayBook outside my home I have my phone with me. I only need WiFi to connect to my phone's mobile hotspot so I can share its 3G data plan. Here's the big irony: With some carriers Apple prevents you from tethering your iPad to your iPhone's hotspot unless you pay an extra fee. My PlayBook shares my iPhone's data plan via WiFi just fine.  I do not want separate data plans for every device I own.  Apple's 3G feature is not appealing to me at all.   

Winner:  I'll call it a tie but RIM wins for me because its WiFi works better than an iPad with my iPhone!


The PlayBook asked what WiFi network I wanted to connect to (I chose the WiFi hotspot on my iPhone!), signed me up for a BlackBerry ID, updated my tablet OS and let me start using the web browser immediately.  On an iPad, Apple insists that I connect a sync cable to a computer running iTunes to get started.  WTF?

Winner: RIM

Final Score

RIM: 5.5   Apple:2   Ties: 2


Geeks should get a PlayBook.  My mother should  wait.


This review was partially tongue-in-cheek.  I will make new posts over the next few days to better describe a good, modern tablet.  At first glance, The RIM PlayBook seems much closer to my ideal tablet than the iPad.  Come on back.  I promise you will be entertained :)


After reading bizarre RIM PlayBook reviews from otherwise respected authors David Pogue (NY Times) and Walt Mossberg (WSJ), I thought it was time to add opinions from a different perspective.

My name is Craig.  I am not Elvis - but I have been a software designer, inventor and technology evangelist since 1975.  I have worked for some of the largest (and smallest) software companies in North America.  I remain passionately engaged  in both the technical and social aspects of computer science.

So here is yet another technology blog.  This time centering on the new RIM Playbook - from a geek's point of view.