B USI N ESS
THE BULLETIN • Tuesday, April 19, 2011 D3
T F PlayBook looks good, but where are the apps?
Winning features But the PlayBook does three impressive things that its rivals — the iPad and the Android tablets — can only dream about. First, with a special HDMI cable (not included), you can hook it up to a TV or projector, which is great for PowerPoint presentations. (Apparently they still do those in corporations.) The iPad does that, but the TV image is identical to the iPad’s screen image. The PlayBook, however, can show two different
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things. On the TV, the audience sees your slides; on the PlayBook, you get to see the traditional PowerPoint cheat sheet of notes and slide thumbnails. The second cool feature has to do with loading the tablet with your music, photos and music. Unfortunately, there’s no iTuneslike software to do this automatically. You have to drag files manually from your computer into the PlayBook’s folders (Music, Photos and so on). But once you’ve set up this process using a USB cable, you can do it thereafter over WiFi — wirelessly. The PlayBook can even accept such wireless transfers when it’s in sleep mode, sitting in your purse or briefcase across the room. Finally, there’s a wild, wireless Bluetooth connection feature called BlackBerry Bridge. In this setup, the PlayBook acts as a giant viewing window onto the contents of a BlackBerry phone. Whatever email, calendar, address book and instant messages are on the BlackBerry now show up on the PlayBook’s much roomier screen — a live, encrypted two-way link. (Another advantage of pairing
While Apple has been hawking the iPad for more than a year, BlackBerry maker Research In Motion is just getting started with the release of its tablet computer, the PlayBook. the PlayBook with a BlackBerry: The tablet can get online using the BlackBerry’s cellular connection. You don’t have to pay another $15 or $20 a month for a tethering plan, as you do with iPhones and Android phones. That’s a huge benefit.)
Missing features BlackBerry Bridge is supposed to appeal to the corporate network administrators who are RIM’s bread and butter, because they can deploy PlayBooks without having to worry about security breaches. Everything they’ve worked so hard to secure on your BlackBerry — e-mail, calendar and so on — stays there. It only appears to be on the PlayBook. But — are you sitting down? — at the moment, BlackBerry Bridge is the only way to do e-mail, calendar, address book and BlackBerry Messenger on the PlayBook. The PlayBook does not have e-mail, calendar or address book apps of its own. You read that right: RIM
has just shipped a BlackBerry product that cannot do e-mail. It must be skating season in hell. (RIM says that those missing apps will come this summer.) What you do get are built-in versions of Documents to Go, for creating and editing Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents. And you get a nice Web browser that plays Flash videos online, which the iPad still can’t do. The PlayBook’s front and back cameras (3 and 5 megapixels) can record stabilized stills and hi-def video. Unfortunately, there’s no video chatting app, as with Android tablets and the iPad. Similarly, the tablet has GPS, but without turn-by-turn navigation software, it’s not good for much besides the built-in Bing Maps app. And that’s just the beginning. For now, the PlayBook’s motto might be, “There’s no app for that.” No existing apps run on this allnew operating system, not even BlackBerry phone apps. (RIM says an emulator that will run BlackBerry apps will come later this year.) So the company has decided to start from scratch with an all-new app store for the PlayBook. The company says that it has 3,000 submissions already, in part because it offered a free PlayBook to anyone who’d write an app. But they won’t be revealed until next week. (Reviewers were shown only a skeletal store with a few
Wood Floor Super Store
Will Apple’s aggressive push into publishing be helpful or harmful? San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News
SAN JOSE, Calif. — Apple’s bold foray into the world of digital publishing could make it the online gatekeeper for newspaper and magazine content, just as it is for music. But for a plan ostensibly designed to help ailing print publishers sign up new readers and thrive in the digital jungle, the Cupertino, Calif., giant’s new subscription model has met with push-back from the industry, mixed reviews from analysts, and rants from bloggers calling the company everything from monopolist to Mafioso. “Apple envisions a world,” Forrester Research analyst James McQuivey told the BBC, “in which people don’t consume any kind of digital media without its help.” The recurring-payment model, which enables Apple to regularly bill a customer’s credit card through the course of a digital subscription, represents a chestthumping move by the company. And if successful, it could help fatten its coffers significantly. Not only does Apple take a 30 percent cut for each newspaper or magazine subscriber it enlists through its iTunes store, but it also restricts publishers from selling content for less than they charge through their iPhone and iPad apps, assuring the price within Apple’s walled garden can never be beat. “If you sign up with them, your hands are tied,” said Ron Adner, associate professor of business administration at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College. “Apple’s saying to subscribers, ‘You’ll never have reason to leave because your subscription will always be lowest here.’ But this puts the publishers in a world of pain, and because of that I think Apple’s reputation is taking a hit here.”
The digital newsstand Apple’s not saying much publicly. But its model represents a huge bet that by luring publishers with the prospect of new customers, Apple could position itself as the go-to digital news-
“Apple envisions a world in which people don’t consume any kind of digital media without its help.” — James McQuivey, analyst, Forrester Research stand, mirroring the way its 2001 iPod launch led to its dominance of online music sales. Analysts, however, point out a number of potential stumbling blocks. There are concerns about the plan among European antitrust authorities, which the American Antitrust Institute’s Bob Lande says could put “a target on the company.” Some observers even suggest that by playing hardball with publishers, Apple risks driving customers into the arms of competing tablet-makers. “I think this will ultimately hurt Apple,” said David Wertheimer, executive director of the Entertainment Technology Center at the University of Southern California. “They created all this hope and promise with the iPad as the future of digital-publishing incarnate. Now, they’ve knocked it down with these restrictive rules, and I think that’s somewhat short-sighted.” Or maybe not. Media analyst Ken Doctor said that “Apple will become A gatekeeper, not THE gatekeeper,” because “core customers who already read a newspaper in print or online are more likely to digitally subscribe through the publisher’s site, while Apple will attract new and younger readers through its Apps Store.” With some analysts estimating 300 million more tablets will be sold by 2014, the bulk of them iPads, Doctor says, “if this plan works, it could be a very profitable new revenue stream for Apple — you’ve got your hardware, your software, your digital music sales and now your publisher fees.” He said Apple’s new subscription revenue could reach “hundreds of millions of dollars a year.”
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An enticing deal Apple’s new model certainly has its enticements. It offers publishers instant exposure to legions of potential subscribers now loitering in the Apps Store. And it makes subscribing a snap, through iTunes and its 100 million active credit cards already on file. But it remains unclear what special arrangements, if any, Apple may be making with various print partners. A handful of publishers have taken the plunge, including Rupert Murdoch of News Corp., whose iPad-only digital newspaper The Daily launched around the same time Apple announced its new plan. Gregg Hano, vice president and group publisher of the Bonnier Technology Group, which owns Field & Stream, Popular Photography and other wellknown titles, said its decision to offer one-year subscriptions to Popular Science for $14.95 through iTunes resulted in 8,000 new customers in the first three weeks. “We feel strongly that the subscription model is a step in the right direction,” Hano said. “We think this will be an exciting new business model for publishing, the first in a long series of ways for us to monetize our brands.” Yet many publishers fear Apple is putting itself between them and their new customers. Subscribers who sign up under the plan are given the option to share their name, e-mail address and ZIP code with the publisher. But if publishers know nothing about those subscribers who declined to share that information, they’ll have no easy way of customizing content and ads to these shadow customers. “It’s really important to publishers to have access to the people buying their magazines and newspapers,” said Zeke Koch, an Adobe project manager who has worked closely with national publishers on their digital offerings. “That dramatically raises the value of the magazine to advertisers, because readers they know something about are much more valuable than readers they don’t know anything about.”
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dozen lame apps in it.) You should also be aware that this PlayBook is Wi-Fi only. You don’t have the option to get online via a cellular network, as with the rivals from Apple, Motorola and Samsung. (RIM says that 4G versions of the PlayBook will arrive by the end of 2011.) The PlayBook, then, is convenient, fast, coherently designed. But in its current, half-baked form, it seems almost silly to try to assess it, let alone buy it. Remember, the primary competition is an iPad — same price, but much thinner, much bigger screen and a library of 300,000 apps. In that light, does it make sense to buy a fledgling tablet with no built-in e-mail or calendar, no cellular connection, no videochat, Skype, no Notes app, no GPS app, no videochat, no Pandora radio and no Angry Birds? You should also know that even now, the day the PlayBook goes on sale, the software is buggy and still undergoing feverish daily revision. And the all-important BlackBerry Bridge feature is still in beta testing. It’s missing important features, like the ability to view e-mail file attachments or click a link in an e-mail. If all of this gets fixed, and the apps arrive, and the PlayBook can survive this year’s onslaught of rival tablets, then it may one day wind up in the pantheon of greats. For now, though, there are too many features that live only in RIM’s playbook — and not enough in its PlayBook.
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Listen, I’ll be straight with you. I realize that tablets are crazy hot right now, that 2011 is the Year of the iPad Clone and that every company and its brother is rushing one to market. But I’m sorry. I’m not going to review every one of the 85 tablets that will arrive this year; it’s only April, and I’ve already got Tablet Fatigue. I’m not going to review the Electrolux tablet, the Polaroid tablet, the Sunoco tablet, the Kellogg’s tablet.... The BlackBerry tablet, though, seems worth a look. The tech world’s been hyperventilating over this thing. Called the PlayBook, it’s a seven-inch touchscreen tablet ($500, $600 and $700 for the 16, 32- and 64-gigabyte models). The iPad, of course, is a 10incher, but seven has its virtues. It’s much easier to hold with one hand, for example. In principle, you ought to be able to slip the PlayBook into the breast pocket of a jacket — but incredibly, the PlayBook is about half an inch too wide. Whoever muffed that design spec should be barred from the launch party. Still, the PlayBook looks and feels great: hard rubberized back, brilliant, super-responsive multi-touch screen, solid heft (0.9 pounds). Its software is based on an operating system called QNX, which Research in Motion, the BlackBerry’s maker, bought for its industrial stability. (“It runs nuclear power plants,” says a product manager without a trace of current-events irony.) Nor is QNX the only other company that lent a hand. Palm and Apple were also involved, although they didn’t know it. The PlayBook software is crawling with borrowed ideas. For example, to remove or rear-
range apps, you hold your finger down on one app icon until all icons begin to pulse (hello, iPad!). And to close a program, you swipe your finger upward from the bottom bezel to turn all app window into “cards,” and then flick one upward off the screen (hello, Palm Pre!). There are no buttons on the front at all, and the top edge has only On, Play/Pause and volume keys. Instead, you navigate by swiping your finger from the black border, which seems unduly wide, into the screen itself. Swiping upward reveals your app icons (and turns your apps into “cards”). Swiping left or right cycles among open multitasking apps. And swiping down reveals an app’s toolbar, if it has one. Unfortunately, there’s no way of knowing beforehand if a toolbar exists, so you often swipe futilely and feel silly. Similarly, if app icons completely fill the home screen, you can swipe upward to reveal what’s below the screen — but you won’t know if there are more until you swipe, because no scrollbar appears beforehand to let you know there are more below the screen.
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New York Times News Service
By David Pogue
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