GCN LAB IMPRESSIONS

Why the PlayBook could beat the iPad in government

Its interface gives it a head start with BlackBerry users, and extra features have appeal

Research in Motion, maker of the BlackBerry line of smart phones, has delivered the BlackBerry PlayBook, which the company hopes will be a major contender to Apple’s iPad.

Touted as the world’s first professional-grade tablet, the PlayBook has as close to the feel of a standard BlackBerry as the company could make in a larger format — 7.6 inches by 5.1 inches by 0.4 inches — and many new features that diehard BlackBerry users should appreciate.

Given that everyone in government from the commander-in-chief on down the line seems addicted to their BlackBerry phones, it’s probably a good move on RIM’s part to keep the interface as similar as possible.

The timing of this release, shortly after Apple released its own iPad 2, is interesting. But I guess the longer they waited, the more they could learn from what worked and what didn’t work with the first iPad.

“PlayBook” also is an interesting choice of name for a device that is targeted at business and government. But I guess they can’t call it “Workbook,” because that is a software company. This naming products thing is tough.

Of course, now that more than one major player has started making this type of platform, which is smaller than the old, laptop-sized tablet PCs, a generic term for it will have to be defined. Let’s see…handheld tablet? Thin tablet? Hmm. You know, I’m going to go with “tablette.” Let’s see if that catches on. If it does, you can say you heard it here first.

But on to the question at hand. Apple’s iPads are being used in some state, local and federal agencies, but compared with its consumer popularity, it hasn’t exactly taken government by storm. Could RIM have better luck there, given the popularity BlackBerry products already have with government organizations?

I would have to say yes. The PlayBook’s interface is similar enough to other BlackBerry devices that users already know. In fact, if someone knows nothing about the PlayBook but uses a typical BlackBerry, there is almost no learning curve. I had to really look to find some major interface differences between the two platforms.

But the PlayBook has enough additional capability in terms of memory, screen size and available programs that it could definitely fill a niche in government. I’ve had only a brief look at the PlayBook, but I can nonetheless predict it has a good shot at blazing a trail into government, passing the barriers the iPad hasn’t.

Of course, time will tell, but I don’t think we will need to wait very long to find out.

Time will also tell whether "tablette" catches on, but I think I already know the answer to that one.

About the Author

Greg Crowe is a former GCN staff writer who covered mobile technology.

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