This is a guest post by Joe Pawlikowski. He edits BBGeeks, a site dedicated to helping BlackBerry users get the most out of their devices. If you would like to write for TheDolt’s Blog, do read our page Be My Guest; Write A Guest Post.
When you announce a device in September for an anticipated first quarter release, you’re setting yourself up for abounding speculation. Research In Motion tried to get out ahead of the tablet market in 2010 when they announced the BlackBerry PlayBook. But even then they admitted that it would be a while until the official release. In the interim we heard rumors galore, some good and some bad. Yet one struck me at the time as a wonderful idea that had zero chance of happening.
At some point in early 2011, we learned that the PlayBook would support Android apps. The rumors were vague at the time, but sources pointed to two possibilities. The first was what actually happened: RIM would create an Android Player and allow developers to easily port their apps. That’s not a terrible solution, especially for a platform that lacks for apps. The only problem is that the number of apps available to RIM is necessarily limited:
Key features which will be unavailable to Android apps running under the compatibility layer on the PlayBook and future BlackBerry devices include Android’s famed battery-sucking Live Wallpaper, SIP and SIP VoIP, anything built using the Native Development Kit, apps containing only App Widgets, and apps containing more than one activity tied to the Launcher.
In addition, any packages which rely on Google Maps, in-app billing services, Android’s text-to-speech engine, or the cloud-to-device messaging system will all be rendered unusable under the company’s runtime system.
While these limitations don’t render the Android Player completely useless, it does mean that eager PlayBook users will be disappointed when they finally see what’s available. The pressure is back on RIM to attract developers that can fill out its library and replace many of these incompatible apps. That’s going to take some time, and RIM doesn’t exactly have a lot of time. The PlayBook is already six months old, and it doesn’t even have email, calendars, and contacts yet. By the time RIM gets all these updates out, it will probably be time to start thinking about the follow-up product.
The second rumors tantalized at the time, and in hindsight it absolutely should have been the path RIM took. The rumor: The PlayBook would be an Android tablet. This likely wouldn’t have been a pure Android tablet, as we saw in the spring with the Motorola Xoom. Instead it almost certainly would have been more along the lines of the Amazon Kindle Fire. That is, it would have run Android, but it would have been distinctly a BlackBerry tablet. That’s really the beauty of Android: anyone can build code on top of it and create something distinctly their own. RIM would have benefitted greatly from this, in a number of ways.
Read more: What BlackBerry Needs To Go High-End
First, it would have given them a viable product at launch. When RIM launched the PlayBook, seven months after announcement, it came with little fanfare. Some BlackBerry users enjoyed it because of its integration with a BlackBerry smartphone. That is, they could get email, contacts, and calendars by bridging their two devices. But even then, it took a while for the PlayBook app library to grow. If they had launched with Android they would have had a full app library, plus all of the email, contact, and calendar features of Android. Gmail users would have loved it, and even those who don’t use Google services would have a number of external email options. It would have been a complete tablet.
In the meantime, RIM could have continued to work on its own tablet offering. As we’re starting to see, they do have something going with the BBX platform. Heck, it was easy to see that they had something going with the PlayBook. Despite its incompleteness, the PlayBook clearly has the potential to compete in the tablet market. But if RIM had released an Android tablet in early 2011, they could have been far along on their own tablet platform by now. In early 2012 they could have released a BBX-based PlayBook, complete with email, contacts, calendar, and, with a little luck, a relatively large catalog of BBX apps.
It’s easy to understand why RIM wanted to release a tablet in 2011. They had fallen behind in the smartphone race, and the tablet market was just starting to develop. By getting out ahead of the pack they might have made an impact. Yet I can’t help but think that they would have been better off creating an Android-based tablet to start. They would have then had enough time to work more on their own model, making sure that it was a complete product at launch. Unfortunately, they’re still running out an incomplete product. Even when the native functions drop, I have to say that I’m more excited about the Samsung Galaxy Tab. It’s a shame that RIM couldn’t have jumped on that Android bandwagon, both for the present and for the future.