Is BlackBerry PlayBook the real Apple iPad Killer? [Comparison]

iPad PlayBook Tablet Comparison Chart

BlackBerry PlayBook

There have been a wealth of articles, and pretty comparison tables produced recently in most major publications to show us just how the upcoming crop of “iPad Killers” will shape up against their nemesis.

Breaking them down the differences between the Apple iPad, Samsung’s Tab, Dell’s Streak and the BlackBerry PlayBook (I’ll come back to that name in a while) come down to four key statistics.

1. The size of the screen, and consequently the entire tablet.
2. The processor.
3. Camera, cameras or no camera.
4. Price.

And an honourable mention for Flash!

Apple’s iPad is the heaviest and the biggest of the three, it certainly doesn’t sport the fastest silicon of the three, doesn’t support Flash and has no cameras. Seems like a slam-dunk for the competition, right?

Not really. I’ll explain why…

All of the iPad’s rivals have smaller screens, and also have lower resolution display panels. None of which are 720p, including the iPad. But the iPad is the closest of the three. It’s also the perfect form factor for the kind of stuff people want to do on a tablet. Apple get that. No-one else quite does yet. Android are probably the closest of the three or four mobile operating systems to iOS to “get” touch interfaces and the ergonomics of the devices associated with that kind of workflow. And even Android has a ways to go yet. Luckily its developer community is growing in experience and we are seeing some cool things coming down the Android pipe. The Samsung Tab’s OS is a good example of that.

With the noticeable exception of the Dell Streak, which with a 5 inch screen is too big to put in your pocket, seems like a podgy iPod Touch rather than a tablet, and seems confused about whether it is a big phone or a remote control, the other two tablets are also uncomfortably placed between the size of the iPad and the iPod Touch. Their size and their proposed functionality are slightly at odds.

Being hyper critical it would be easy to say that Dell, Samsung and BlackBerry have fallen at the first hurdle. Because they don’t seem to get what using a tablet is all about. Yet, it’s all about something in your hands that feels like an electronic magazine, and is comfortable to use as such. For that kind of application the iPad is the correct size. Which is presumably why Apple made it that way.

Both the Tab and the Streak offer similar core silicon for their devices as the Apple iPad does. They all basically have the same 1Ghz ARM SoC, albeit with a few tweaks to each manufacturers specifications. But Dell and Samsung’s offerings are barely on sale yet, whereas Apple’s iPad has been kicking around in the market place now for quite a few months. And their silicon has been tweaked to work with iOS from inception. It’s a small but very important differentiation when it comes to that super secret Apple sauce that just makes thing work.

BlackBerry have gone another way altogether and have slapped a dual core ARM SoC in their PlayBook tablet, which is similar in many ways to what we would expect Apple to put in its next processor revision (The Apple A5) for the next iPad and iPhone refresh. The iPad refresh coming quite significantly sometime around the launch date of BlackBerry’s tablet. The difference is that Apple know how much power their A5 chip will need, because they will have designed it to work within the bounds of their tight (and maturing) Tablet design. A design based on an already proven model which has fantastic battery performance. BlackBerry are still working through that, most likely with an off the shelf ARM core which is much more power hungry than Apple’s A5 will be. To be honest it is quite worrying that the PlayBook’s User Interface is still only visible as PR CG mock ups. It is also worrying that they are allowing full multitasking and Flash on their mobile device. Something we know does not work well even on up to date Android hardware; from either a performance or battery life perspective.

As an aside BlackBerry have gone the same disastrous route that Palm did with their initial approach to their SDK and prospective developers. As it stands right now there is no native SDK for writing apps which use OpenGL or run native code on the PlayBook. Sure, Apple made the same mistake, but they remedied it quickly. Palm didn’t and it killed their developer program out of the gate. Having seen both Apple and Palm make this mistake BlackBerry can only have made it again because they were forced to (or are superbly ignorant). I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and say they were forced to. The only reason for that would be that their tools are not mature enough (or even in existence yet) to allow developers to program for the platform in the way they’ll want to and that is a bad sign at this stage.

Apple has stuck cameras, both front and rear facing, into its iPhone and the recent iPod Touch update. At the same time they have been making us all realise how much we want Facetime video calling on all our devices, which is an industry standard for video communication that they are hoping to license to other manufacturers. Facetime is a defacto video communications standard which costs Apple nothing to run. The onus being on network providers and eventually mobile data packages to provide bandwidth. And in the next iPad refresh it is a no brainer that we will see front and rear facing cameras if for nothing else than Facetime calling.

Apple’s current tablet offering, the iPad, ranges in price from around $500 up to $850. A price that it doesn’t seem that BlackBerry, Samsung or Dell are able to undercut.

And when Apple rolls out the iPad 2 it will most likely stay at the pricing levels of the current iPad model, while that first generation model will disappear or drop in price further.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Samsung’s Tab will sell. It’s a nice piece of kit. And Android is perfectly suited to it. The version it runs fitting the tablet almost as well as iOS fits the iPad. But it will sell to a different market, and it’s certainly not going to stand up to Apple’s iPad revision, due out in a few short months.

The Dell streak it is best to forget I think. Enough said.

Finally the fire-breathing, dual core monster that is BlackBerry’s PlayBook will probably be hitting the market about the time we are all talking about the new iPad. And if it wobbles just once in any area.. Say battery life, or the stability of its untested OS, or problems getting Flash to play nice, or heaven forbid because of BlackBerry’s legendary manufacturing problems then the new iPad will crush it.

If Apple stick an HD Retina style display in the new iPad then that really is game over for BlackBerry and Samsung also, until they rush something else out of the door. And here we see the problem. All the other manufacturers are still following Apple’s lead. Reacting to Apple rather than out thinking them. And the only places they are thinking independently (like with device and screen size decisions) they seem to have gone the wrong way altogether.

Sure Apple’s iPad is not expandable, has proprietary connections, no Flash and is getting on for a year old. But it’s that year of the iPad in the market, and several years of developing iOS and iDevice manufacturing, as well as building custom silicon that means that anything that Apple does from now on in is going to continue to excel, and make any other manufacturer look like it is playing catch up for at least another round of hardware revisions in the mobile market place.

So about the time that the Galaxy Tab is starting to sell in good numbers, the Dell Streak has been discontinued and the BlackBerry PlayBook hits the market the new iPad killer will be Apple’s 2011 iPad revision.

One final thought. BlackBerry need to change the name of their tablet. Outside of the US “PlayBook” sounds like a kids coloring book.

And here’s one of those comparison charts for you:

Tablet Apple iPad BlackBerry PlayBook Samsung Galaxy Tab Dell Streak
Display 9.7 inches, 1024 x 768 pixels 7 inches, 1024 x 600 pixels 7 inches, 1024 x 600 pixels 5 inches, 800 x 480 pixels
Processor 1 GHz Apple A4 1 GHz dual-core 1 GHz ‘Hummingbird’ 1 GHz ‘Hummingbird’
Weight 1.5 lbs 0.9 lbs 0.8 lbs 0.48 lbs
Dimensions (H x W x D) 9.5″ x 7.4″ x 0.5″ 5.1″ x 7.6″ x 0.4″ 7.5″ x 4.7″ x 0.4″ 6″ x 3.1″ x 0.4″
Storage Options 16 GB, 32 GB, 64 GB 16 GB, 32 GB 16 GB, 32 GB 16 GB microSD card
Camera no camera 5 MP rear camera, 3 MP front camera, video recording 3 MP rear camera, 1.3 MP front camera, video recording 5 MP rear camera, VGA front camera, video recording
Operating System Apple iOS QNX Android 2.2 Android 1.6
Connectivity Wi-Fi, 3G (AT&T, no contract required), Bluetooth Wi-Fi, Bluetooth Wi-Fi, 3G (on AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, with contracts), Bluetooth Wi-Fi, 3G (on AT&T, with contract), Bluetooth
Flash support No Flash support Supports Flash 10.1 Supports Flash 10.1 No Flash support
Battery life* 10 hrs surfing web on Wi-Fi, watching video or listening to music N/A 4,000 mAh rated for 7 hrs movie playback 1,530 mAh battery, up to 9.8 hrs talk time
Price $500-$700 (Wi-Fi only) $630-$830 Wi-Fi + 3G N/A N/A $560 no contract, $300 2-year contract
Availability Shipping since April Early 2011 Late 2010 Shipping since August
Apps Apple App Store To be launched Android Market Apps Android Market Apps

*Battery life as specified by the manufacturer

Do you think Apple has got the Tablet market in its pocket for the foreseeable future? Have your say in the comments…

Comparison Chart Source: Wired

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Stephen NorthcottIs BlackBerry PlayBook the real Apple iPad Killer? [Comparison]