As I read through forum threads and check out blog post comments both here on CrackBerry and on other websites, I am noticing there is still a lot of confusion surrounding a few specific aspects of RIM's first tablet. Hopefully RIM's PlayBook marketing efforts will clean up the mess as we near launch, but in the meantime I'll do my best to help the cause. I already addressed the no native email, calendar, contacts at launch issue here, and in this post we're going to clear up the misunderstandings between Internet Tethering and the BlackBerry Bridge on the BlackBerry PlayBook and answer some of the big questions regarding both. Here we go!
BlackBerry Bridge vs. Internet Tethering and FAQ
Ok, let's go through some of the key points and frequently asked questions here about the BlackBerry Bridge and Internet Tethering on the BlackBerry PlayBook....
Key Point: BlackBerry Bridge and Internet Tethering are different things!
The BlackBerry Bridge and Internet Tethering are two separate modes of connectivity on the BlackBerry PlayBook. They are not the same thing. Internet Tethering on the PlayBook works with any mobile device that can connect via Bluetooth - it does not have to a BlackBerry. The BlackBerry Bridge, however, requires a BlackBerry Smartphone. You do not tether (get data for web browsing from a mobile device) via the BlackBerry Bridge. Within the PlayBook's Settings menu, Internet Tethering and BlackBerry Bridge are two distinctly different options, as shown on the screen captures above.
What is the BlackBerry Bridge?
For people who own both a BlackBerry Smartphone and a BlackBerry PlayBook, the BlackBerry Bridge provides a set of additional apps on the PlayBook that allow you to interact with many of the core native apps on the BlackBerry Smartphone, including email, calendar, contacts, BlackBerry Messenger and more.
The connection between the two devices is made wirelessly via Bluetooth. When the Bridge connection is active, the PlayBook acts as an external terminal for the BlackBerry Smartphone - both displaying your phone's data on the PlayBook and allowing you to enter data on your phone from the tablet via the PlayBook's bridge apps. These apps have been enhanced to make use of the tablet's touchscreen and larger screen real estate. No data is actually ever stored on the PlayBook - the PlayBook simply acts as window to the BlackBerry Smartphone. You can almost think of it as Go To My PC for for your BlackBerry Smartphone (or RIM's version of Palm's Foleo, if you remember that).
If that still sounds confusing, the best thing to do is visualize it with an example. With the BlackBerry Bridge connected, you can have your BlackBerry Smartphone in your pocket or purse but be emailing and BBMing to your heart's content from the PlayBook in your hands. The phone in your pocket is actually still doing the sending and receiving of emails and BBMs back and forth to RIM's servers via your phone's carrier connection, but it feels as if it's happening from the PlayBook directly.
What is Internet Tethering?
I repeat once again... Internet Tethering does not require a BlackBerry!
The WiFi only version of the BlackBerry PlayBook does not have a cellular radio in it like a smartphone does. This means when you are out of a WiFi zone, the tablet has no data connection. Internet tethering is a mode of connectivity that allows the BlackBerry PlayBook to make use of/share another mobile device's data connection. The connection is made between the PlayBook and other mobile device via Bluetooth. The PlayBook can tether via any mobile device that supports Bluetooth tethering. It does not have to be a BlackBerry Smartphone. Once tethered, the PlayBook can now run applications that require data, including the web browser. (Note: We'll be doing a followup article on this soon with more details).
Can I use the BlackBerry Bridge and Internet Tether at the Same Time?
Remember, the use of the BlackBerry Bridge requires a BlackBerry Smartphone, so this question is only relevant to people who own both a BlackBerry PlayBook and BlackBerry Smartphone.
GSM BlackBerry Smartphone + BlackBerry PlayBook: YES, you can be connected via the BlackBerry Bridge and use Internet Tethering at the same time. GSM BlackBerry Smartphones are those that require a SIM card (AT&T, T-Mobile, Rogers, etc.).
CDMA BlackBerry Smartphone + BlackBerry PlayBook: As far as we have been told, NO, currently when using a CDMA BlackBerry Smartphone (Verizon, Sprint) with your BlackBerry PlayBook, you cannot use both Internet Tethering and the BlackBerry Bridge at the same time. We'll be looking forward to testing this out ourselves to find out exactly what the limitations are when using the PlayBook with a CDMA Smartphone.
Does Internet Tethering Cost Money?
This will depend on the carrier you are with and your smartphone plan. Some carriers have tethering or data share plans that are specifically designed for sharing your smartphone's data connection with other mobile devices. Other carriers may not charge for Internet Tethering so long as data usage stays within the allowed amounts per the subscribed data plan. Be sure to check with your carrier before Internet Tethering to ensure you're not surprised.
What's the real purpose of the BlackBerry Bridge?
This question gets asked a lot. There a couple of reasons why the BlackBerry Bridge exists, and it's not just that RIM would like people to own both a BlackBerry Smartphone and BlackBerry PlayBook.
An Enterprise Ready Tablet - RIM has christened the BlackBerry PlayBook as The First Professional Grade Tablet. To be able to lay claim to that title, RIM has to ensure the BlackBerry PlayBook is secure. The BlackBerry Smartphone and traditional BlackBerry Operating System (as found in phones) are trusted and battle tested by enterprise. For the past decade they have proven their security. The BlackBerry Tablet OS is built upon the QNX operating system, not the traditional BlackBerry Operating System found in phones. While RIM is working hard to secure up QNX and to hook the PlayBook up directly to RIM's servers (and as we discussed in our latest podcast RIM likely needs to deal with the issue of multiple device pins per one user), the quickest way for RIM to create a secure environment on their tablet was to piggy back on the security of the phones. Because none of the critical BlackBerry Bridge data is actually stored on the PlayBook or transmitted to servers directly from the PlayBook, the device is as secure as BlackBerry Smartphones since the paired BlackBerry Smartphone is the secure tunnel connection back to RIM from the PlayBook. So in enterprise, the PlayBook represents the best of both worlds - all of the security of BlackBerry Smartphones combined with the benefits of the tablet form factor and new operating system. RIM has already said that native email, PIM, etc. support will come to the PlayBook, but in the meantime the BlackBerry Bridge allows them to get into market quickly and securely. For more on the BlackBerry PlayBook in Enterprise, check out the slides and audio from this PlayBook Enterprise Webinar.
For consumers, the BlackBerry Bridge may not prove quite as critical but is still a nice value-added bonus for those who own both a BlackBerry Smartphone and BlackBerry PlayBook. We've already seen in the CrackBerry forums that a lot of people plan to make use of the BlackBerry Bridge on their PlayBook so they can email, BBM and more on the PlayBook's nice touchscreen.
For more info, be sure to check out our article on why no native email on the PlayBook at launch.
What smartphone apps and content can I access via the BlackBerry Bridge?
If you are running BlackBerry Device Software 5.0 or later on your BlackBerry smartphone, you can connect your BlackBerry PlayBook tablet to your smartphone to access email, calendars, BlackBerry Messenger files, and other data directly from your tablet.
If you have other any questions on Internet Tethering or the BlackBerry Bridge on the BlackBerry PlayBook, drop them in the comments yet or follow the link below to discuss them in the forums.