Getting to grips with the Blackberry Playbook. First impressions

It’s been few days since the Blackberry Playbook landed on my desk, eagerly awaited and much anticipated, but i have a guilty confession. I’ve barely touched it. And the reason is simple; i don’t know what to do with it.

I feel it’s only fair to state the destination before we start the journey. I am not keen on the Playbook. It is a poor companion to the iPad. I didn’t want it to be the case, but it is. Maybe things will change, maybe i’ll learn to love it and build an enduring passion, but at this stage, it’s safe to say, the first date was a blowout.

And you know, it really is a date; lots of expectation but, when it comes down to it, only a few short minutes to make a great first impression, and this is where the Playbook lost. From the start, the packaging felt like it was designed by someone who had bought something from Apple and couldn’t be bothered to innovate. The box opened upwards, the cover came off, and there was a neoprene case, holding the Playbook. Nice touch i thought – selling it with a case is one up on the iPad. Except that extracting the pad from the case was like extracting myself from a wetsuit, on a windy day at the beach, whilst trying to hold up a towel. The Playbook demonstrated a marked reluctance to take off it’s jacket and sit down for dinner.

Still, eventually i teased it out and managed to find the On/Off button. With mounting excitement, i overlooked the fact that the Blackberry logo was pixelated (if you’re selling a device with HD output, why wouldn’t you sort this out?) and landed on the homepage. Except that i didn’t. I landed on a page with two tutorials, which i couldn’t skip. This is always a worrying sign. It implies that things are not intuitive, and that, in a nutshell, is the Playbook. It’s ambiguous. It took me over half an hour to complete the various screens asking for my email address, promising not to spam me and for it to upload it’s latest system updates. Half an hour, during which the date started to head south. It’s like she talked about her ex boyfriend for half an hour, it made me wary. By the time the device was finally ready to play, i’d pretty much lost interest.

It’s not exactly that the Playbook is complex to use, although it’s certainly not totally intuitive, it’s more that it lacks purpose. There are a number of ‘home’ screens, and it’s not entirely clear which one is a dock, a menu and a configuration screen. From the first homepage, i couldn’t see an icon for email. In fact, nowhere can i see an icon for email. Oh, wait, if i scroll down, there it is, offering me gmail, hotmail, aol and yahoo mail, but not Exchange? Ah yes, this is Blackberry’s neat volte face where you realise that the Playbook is not able to handle Exchange mail as it won’t speak to the Blackberry Exchange Server.

There are usability issues; i launch the hotmail icon and it brings up a screen, but as i’m not on wifi, is just shows ‘network error’. There is no intuitive way to close this screen down. There is no button to press, no red ‘x’ in a corner, then i remember from the tutorial that i have to swipe up.

I don’t know. Maybe the Playbook caught me on a bad day, but i just can’t get what it’s about. The device is a lovely size, half the size of the iPad, although perversely it feels heavy for it’s size (this is probably not a bad thing, as it’s solidly built, but it’s noticeable). Putting Bing maps on the homepage is not good either. Nobody likes Bing. It’s the single worst search engine in history with a daft name. It works for Google, it doesn’t work for Microsoft. Nobody is ever ever going to say ‘hang on, i’ll just bing it’.

Maybe the Playbook is something that will grow on me. It may well be that it’s a slow burner. It may be that i’m judging it too heavily against the iPad, but maybe it’s not intended to compete in that area? Perhaps it’s a giant Nintendo Gameboy? I really don’t know. It’s too small to feel good to write on, but too big to fit in my pocket. And that’s what it is really. A brave effort to create and colonise the ‘mini tablet’ space, but i’m not convinced.

About julianstodd

Author, Artist, Researcher, and Founder of Sea Salt Learning. My work explores the context of the Social Age and the intersection of formal and social systems.
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