I'm a PlayBook owner. It's a tablet that I have loved, but it's been a rocky road in the journey of BlackBerry's first and only Tablet OS device. It's had bad moments like the 6 month delay of Tablet OS 2, and some great moments like the messaging app being unveiled along with the enhanced BlackBerry Bridge.
So it breaks my heart to have to write this article. I have 3 PlayBooks in my home and they have been eagerly waiting for the huge upgrade that has been promised by RIM. But as RIM died at the BlackBerry 10 launch, so did my dreams of seeing BlackBerry 10 appear on the tablets.
There's a story to tell here, so bear with me.
After the launch event, the question on a number of BlackBerry fans' lips was “What about the PlayBook?” Did Thorsten forget to mention it? If you caught our post-launch webcast you may remember our discussion about the absence of anything even rhyming with PlayBook. I defended the line by stating that it would be ridiculous to talk about the PlayBook during the Z10 launch. I expected to hear more at the BlackBerry Jam developer conference in Amsterdam shortly afterwards.
BlackBerry Jam came and went, and Amsterdam's visitors were none-the-wiser. Again, the word 'PlayBook' was becoming more elusive than the Z10 multimedia dock. Maybe they just weren't ready. After all, the Q10 was around the corner as well. Also the BlackBerry engineers were busy working on BlackBerry 10.1 and we would soon be seeing an update. We had to be patient. And let's face it – BlackBerry fans are the embodiment of patience.
All eyes were now on the Z10 and the Q10. How is BlackBerry performing? Are they selling handsets? We had the here and now to think about! With all the excitement around BlackBerry 10 devices, we've barely had time to think about the PlayBook! The dust is settling now. We're a day away from AT&T launching the Q10, but it's been here in the UK for some time now. I've had a chance to reflect on PlayBook-related events.
How This Began
I remember sitting in London at the BlackBerry Jam World Tour last year. We watched presentations on BlackBerry 10 - it still wasn't a fully operational OS at this point – and we were told two important things:
1. BlackBerry 10 handsets would be out by the end of the year
2. BlackBerry 10 would arrive on the PlayBook shortly after the launch of BlackBerry 10
I spoke to a developer evangelist about 'how soon' after the launch this would be. He was unwilling to give firm dates and I understood the reasoning for that – especially as the OS was still in development!
After the roadshow, Thorsten Heins showed us that he was going to be the straight guy. RIM was going to delay BlackBerry 10 a second time to a Q1 2013 release. It hurt, but he wanted to be focused on delivering a finished product. Having felt the incompleteness of the PlayBook launch this was understandable. It was his predecessors that set the launch timeframe of BlackBerry 10 – not him. Clearly he was taking control of the situation and was making it clear that as CEO of RIM, he was willing to be direct about the situation.
Our PlayBooks would have to wait. But it would be worth it.
As the Christmas 2012 season came into play the UK Twttier account of Research In Motion, @UK_BlackBerry, was promoting a daily advent calendar. We also saw PlayBook and phone giveaways during this promotion. Surrounding this was the heavy discounting of the PlayBook to £109. The Twitter account was all over it.
Fans were asking about the PlayBook and BlackBerry 10 now. The excitement for the launch event, The BlackBerry Experience, was building! There was more news coming though as fans Tweeted @UK_BlackBerry asking about the highly anticipated upgrade.
“Hi Rob, yes - #BlackBerry10 will be a software update for the #PlayBook. What do you love the most about it?” - Twitter 9:31 AM - 18 Jan 13
And OK – even though we didn't hear about the PlayBook during the launch event, @UK_BlackBerry was letting us know that the PlayBook hadn't been forgotten on that same day!
“@Sunbhoy #BlackBerry10 will be available on the #PlayBook as a software update. We'll have more information soon!” - Twitter 7:15 PM - 30 Jan 13
So all was good until... Nothing.
Silence Is Not Golden
After that Tweet, there has not been a peep about the BlackBerry PlayBook from the UK_BlackBerry account. We heard nothing from the BlackBerry Jam developer conference in February and we've now seen the BlackBerry Live and BlackBerry Jam conferences pass.
In fact during a press Q&A at BlackBerry Live, Thorsten Heins was asked directly when the BlackBerry 10 update would be coming to the PlayBook. He decided to use the opportunity to talk about the future of BlackBerry in mobile computing and completely disregarded the question.
It's as though Research In Motion's name change to BlackBerry at the Z10 launch event wasn't just a symbolic gesture. The PlayBook was a RIM problem, not a BlackBerry one.
What's Really Going On?
Up until recently, I've been quietly optimistic about BlackBerry 10 and the PlayBook. If it wasn't happening, then surely BlackBerry would have said so? I was satisfied with that argument until recently.
The main issue is that the the official line from various official sources right up to the BlackBerry 10 and Z10 launch has been that BlackBerry 10 is indeed coming to the PlayBook. This was the official company line - not just a random employee saying things that he doesn't know anything about.
As the silence continued it has become deafening. Not only are BlackBerry not talking about the update, but you'll be lucky to find any mention of PlayBook on any current channels and marketing. They still talk and occasionally promote BlackBerry 7, but the PlayBook has almost entirely fallen off the radar.
What About The Clues?
There have been a number of reports in the BlackBerry community and on other sites suggesting that the PlayBook is coming after all. They're wrong.
The labelling of BlackBerry 10 to 10.1 in the BlackBerry vendor portal is simply changing the tag for all the QNX based BlackBerry devices, not specifically the PlayBook. It was BlackBerry 10 for a while, too. Don't read anything into this.
BlackBerry Mexico's tweet that the PlayBook would be seeing BlackBerry 10 in a few weeks was wrong. Not only was the tweet pulled, but the timescale has passed. Whatever happened there was obviously not an official BlackBerry statement.
What Does BlackBerry Say?
Although BlackBerry is keeping tight-lipped about the PlayBook, the BlackBerryOS team have been busy trying to get news. And the answer is not good. Every individual who did speak to BlackBerryOS stated that they had been told that a PlayBook update is not coming. These are people who have to know when a big change like this is happening and deal with it ahead of time. If they've been told that the update isn't coming, then it isn't going to happen.
Whether this means that the project has been completely canned or simply on an extended hiatus we can't be clear about. Either way, it's not good news for those expecting some of the wonderful BlackBerry 10 features to hit their beloved tablet.
So Will We Ever See A BlackBerry 10 Update?
The longer it takes for BlackBerry 10 to appear on the PlayBook the less and less likely we are going to see BlackBerry 10. I think that we're past the point of a realistic update. The PlayBook is over 2 years old now, and it's carrying some hardware that is incompatible with the current iteration of BlackBerry 10. Think about the project to get the developer version of BlackBerry 10 working on a PlayBook. This required a particularly old version of the OS to get it to work. And subsequent iterations of BlackBerry 10 are incompatible with the Dev Alpha A, never mind the PlayBook!
The technical work to pull it off would make no financial sense to BlackBerry to keep it going. In fact, for the proportionally fewer PlayBook users that are out there, and the work involved it would appear to offer no financial merit on the surface.
However, as a PlayBook owner and BlackBerry fan, I think that having a BlackBerry 10 experience on the PlayBook would only help to offer some free marketing for the BlackBerry 10 handsets that are out there. For instance, there are PlayBook owners who don't have a BlackBerry thanks to the huge discounting that we've seen in the past. These people probably wouldn't consider a BlackBerry as a phone - but if they see BlackBerry 10 on the PlayBook then there is the potential that they will recognise how different BlackBerry 10 is to anything else.
Also, what about those PlayBook owners with classic BlackBerry handsets? They might be seriously thinking about a different platform for their next phone. Show them what's special about BlackBerry 10 - even if it's just a taste of the full BlackBerry 10 experience.
With all that said, the technical cost of bringing BlackBerry 10 to the PlayBook is probably not a marketing budget consideration. The money has to come from somewhere to commit to the project. As there is no tangible return we're simply not going to see it.
Will There Be A PlayBook Update At All?
There's some good news for PlayBook owners as it appears that it has not been completely forgotten. But we're not going to get the update that we've been told so far either.
The latest leaks of BlackBerry 10.2 are presenting a curious message to those trying to use BlackBerry Bridge. It requires an "up-to-date PlayBook" to work. So there could be an update coming to bring proper bridge functionality back to BlackBerry 10. Those that have used BlackBerry Bridge with a classic BlackBerry know that it is much more useful than the current incarnation on BlackBerry 10.
Now, there could actually be something quite special coming to the BlackBerry Bridge update.
I've toyed with a couple of ideas of what BlackBerry Bridge could bring and want to share them with you.
1 - Basic Bridge
We may just see the bridge functionality replicated from BlackBerry 7; messages, contacts etc would appear as an app that works over Bluetooth and wifi.
2 - Remote BlackBerry 10
We've seen screen share on BBM Video, so why not extend that? When you tap on BlackBerry Bridge app, your PlayBook would connect to your BlackBerry 10 device and show its screen. You would be able to interact with your BlackBerry 10 device through the PlayBook screen while it runs on that little BlackBerry 10 handset nearby. Every app on the BlackBerry is now available on the PlayBook.
3 - Extend BlackBerry 10
This would be like the above feature but on steroids. What if you could take an app on your BlackBerry 10 phone and send it to the PlayBook screen? You could carry on with a call or email while looking at data in an app on a completely different device - interacting with it just like it was loaded on there. Essentially the app would be running remotely on the PlayBook, using its processor power while using the data on the BlackBerry 10 handset! Imagine the possibilities!
I really want to see something quite special and innovative come to BlackBerry 10 and the PlayBook here. Thorsten Heins and BlackBerry have been focusing on delivering a message about how the BlackBerry 10 handset is all that you'll need, and everything else will see a deep interconnection to it. The BlackBerry 10 and the PlayBook combined could show exactly what this new mobile computing idea is all about.
These ideas are just ideas though, optimistic at best and reflect nothing on what is actually happening over at BlackBerry HQ at the moment.
If this update does appear, that would explain why no one at BlackBerry has been denying that there's something happening. But on the same vein, the bottom line is this:
There will be no BlackBerry 10 OS released for the PlayBook. For some people, they've bought this tablet with the promise of an update.
I have no doubt that we will hear cries of those heralding a return to the RIM of old and citing other delayed and then cancelled products such as Theme Builder 7. As far as the PlayBook is concerned, a lot of fans have put faith and goodwill into RIM / BlackBerry through what we can only describe as its most turbulent years.
Despite the functions or frills that can be possibly tacked onto the Tablet OS, the fact that this promise is going to be left undelivered is going to leave a bitter taste in the mouth for those of us that have been patiently waiting after putting our faith in BlackBerry.
Regardless of everything, there's a part of me that still hopes that we will see a version of BlackBerry 10 come to the PlayBook. I hope that BlackBerry can see the value in committing some time and effort to making this update happen. Come on BlackBerry! Give the PlayBook one final big push to show the world what it was truly capable of when débuted back in April 2011. Give it one last lease on life for #TeamBlackberry!