BlackBerry PlayBook Graveyard

Following yesterday's BlackBerry PlayBook update and subsequent recognition that this is the last OS update the BlackBerry PlayBook will ever see, the community has been pretty vocal. Looking back at the history of the PlayBook, it really is a sad story. So much potential, but instead we're left with shattered dreams, broken promises and what still feels all these years later, like an unfinished project.

What a lot of people may not realize is that the vision for original BlackBerry tablet was much simpler. As the story goes, what Research In Motion founder Mike Lazaridis originally wanted was a simple big screen companion device for his BlackBerry Smartphone. Much more a simple multimedia accessory and much less a full blown standalone tablet. Plans were already in motion on this one before Apple announced the original iPad in early 2010, but after that announcement BlackBerry pivoted and the vision for BlackBerry's tablet became much BIGGER, and of course, much more difficult to execute on.

What's ironic, and is well illustrated by the message I received this morning from CrackBerry member Jsolts, is that the original basic "big window to a BlackBerry" functionality is still what's wanted today!

Subject: The Death of the PlayBook

Hey Kevin, 

First off just want to say I've been a member of this community for a while now, and being a fellow Winnipeger I always noticed and got a kick out of the Winnipeg landmarks that would appear in the images you would post.

I am a huge supporter of BlackBerry, from way back when when I used to manage a Rogers Wireless store and was handed this new fangled RIM 950 and was told to "make it a part of my life." They claimed these things would be all the rage and everyone would have one. In reality, they were right.

Since that day I have owned almost every BlackBerry released in Canada, and as I state publicly you'll have to pry my BlackBerry out of my cold dead hands!

Anyhow, to the topic at hand.

Like many people I purchased a PlayBook to use for business purposes when they launched and despite its short comings I felt that BlackBerry was really on to something with the PlayBook OS. I thought if they could take this and continue to develop it then BB10 was going to be amazing. I actually went out and bought 8 playbooks for members of my family all over the world to keep in touch.

Paired with my 9800, the PlayBook bridge became an unmatched/unstoppable combo.

When the Z10 was released last year I was 12 and 13th on the list to get one from Rogers. When I tried to pair them with my PlayBooks I was disappointed at the loss of the integration that I had with the legacy OS, but was blown away at how much the work load that the Z10 took away from the PlayBook.

And just like that my PlayBook was retired to the drawer of forgotten electronics.

Every now and then I would be in a situation where I would want the bigger screen of the PlayBook to do a presentation, or to view an attachment on a bigger screen but lacked the connectivity to do it.

We are all aware of the broken promises of BB10 on the PlayBook, and yes, I'm disappointed, but I understand the business behind the decision.

People keep hoping for a "lite" version of BB10 for the PlayBook or to be given an unlocked boot loader, or updated Android runtime, but lets face it - with the announcement of end of support for the PlayBook it just ain't gonna happen.

Why am I telling you all this information that you already know? Cause I can't understand why they can't simply make a bridge style app that allows you to use the PlayBook as a dummy i/o companion device to a BB10 phone.

I would be more than happy if i could simply use the PlayBook in a "Miracast" type scenario with my Z30 doing all the actual computing and processing, and have the playbook be the output of the video, and you could also use the tactile input from the screen on the PlayBook to control the z30. The PlayBook would be nothing more than a I/O device. It wouldn't do any other work. This would eliminate the "lack of ram" issue preventing it from running BB10.

I know they had conceptually designed the PlayBook as a companion device for the BBOS phones and I think this would allow us to use it in that fashion but with BB10.

In my opinion, the biggest advantage of the PlayBook is the bridge functionality when used with a BB phone, I don't feel that it is a strong stand alone device in it's current state. I don't see why this isn't a simple solution that would help people who invested in these playbooks to extend the functionality and lifespan of this device.

I know you are probably THE MOST knowledgeable blackberry guy out there.

Am I way off here or is there something that I don't get that is preventing this from happening?! 

Thanks for you time, and thanks for building this great community.

To answer Jsolt's question, my understanding is that it's really a business decision. Technically, if BlackBerry wanted to, they could likely execute on the request here to make the PlayBook simply act as a connected screen to a BB10 device, displaying what is shown on the phone and accepting inputs back from the tablet. You can do a lot with software if you want. Hell, look no further than at just how far BlackBerry pushed the BBOS up from essentially being a two-way pager into a BlackBerry 7 phone.

The bigger *harsh* reality, is why would they want to? This would be an investment that would result in no more new PlayBook sales and no new income to the company. With BlackBerry in the process of turning itself around, the focus has to be on new growth and profitability. It's just the way it is.


A Leaky Trip Down Memory Lane

The message from Jsolts today actually reminded me of a leak I received years ago back in early 2010 just as tablet mania was about to begin. I couldn't post on it at the time at the request of the source, but at this point there's no harm in posting it. It's actually an email that was sent out following one of BlackBerry's Monday Morning Meetings. This one was particularly interesting, as it pointed to BlackBerry's work on not one, but actually two tablets. 

Recently in the MMM, Jim discussed the development of two products, an ebook reader (code name Tiel) and a tablet device (code name Cobalt). Here are the overviews of the two devices for your information and to briefly explain the concepts behind them


The first device, Teal, can be thought of as a Bluetooth extend reader for most type of Grayscale content. 

• ebook reader
o Teal is like any other ebook reader out on the market today minus some functionality and features 
§ Functionality was traded off for a reduced price against other ebook readers in market
o Grayscale using Eink technology with a 5” screen size
o BlackBerry does all the heavy lifting – ebook is just a display screen connected over Bluetooth
o Tiel’s OS will be developed by Short Covers 
• Short Covers will have exclusivity for approx. 12 months for all ebooks
o Additional ebooks distributors may integrate into Short Covers’ OS after exclusivity period ends
o Due to the Short Covers’ OS still being developed, we are unsure of how hard this integration may be
• Other  multimedia applications
o Due to current project scope, other forms of multimedia will be restricted to Grayscale content types only (ie. No magazines)
o RIM should focus on partners’ products that transfer well to grayscale (ie. Newspapers) 
• Timeline
o Product is due out in April 
o Product’s scope and features are not set and are still being negotiated 

The second, Cobalt, is a tablet device focused on the rendering of different types of multimedia content (rich print, video, music, etc). 

• Multimedia tablet
o Feature set is still not defined but the current form factor is:
§ Fold out tablet with multimedia capabilities (colour/sound/ possible touch screen)
§ Product will have the ability to function with a variety of multimedia inputs (video, ebooks, emagazines, music, RSS, etc)
§ Able to run independent of BlackBerry
§ Ability to edit documents or make notes
• No partners have been announced

In this case, it seems BlackBerry was talking to Chapters/Indigo about helping them build what would ultimately become the Kobo eBook reader. That's what Teal was about.

And Cobalt was the beginnings of the PlayBook - a basic multimedia tablet. Even at this point it was only stated as "possibly" having a touch screen. Crazy.

So there you have it. Maybe we'll see "new" leaks happen less, but we still have a few in the old archives we can probably dig up and share. :)