With all of the crazy BlackBerry 10 phone action on CrackBerry the past week, we haven't spent much time talking about BlackBerry 10 for the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet.
During the official BlackBerry 10 launch event there was no mention of BlackBerry 10 for the PlayBook
Of course, there has not really been much to talk about here. During the official BlackBerry 10 launch event there was no mention of BlackBerry 10 for the PlayBook. When prodded during follow-up Q&A sessions with the press, BlackBerry did say BlackBerry 10 would come to the PlayBook "later this year."
Personally, I don't actually want BlackBerry 10 to come to the PlayBook. At least not in the sense that we are now using BlackBerry 10 on the BlackBerry Z10. Sounds a bit crazy I know, but I'm sure by the time you finish reading this article you will likely agree with me. Make sure you read the full editorial before you leave a comment.
BlackBerry 10 evolved on top of the BlackBerry PlayBook OS
At the core, BlackBerry 10 is running on the same QNX-based platform that the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet is built on. In fact, BlackBerry 10 evolved out of the PlayBook tablet OS.
First things first, let's remember that BlackBerry 10 is just a name. At the core, BlackBerry 10 is running on the same QNX-based platform that the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet is built on. In fact, BlackBerry 10 evolved out of the PlayBook tablet OS. Think back to earlier versions of BlackBerry Dev Alpha hardware, which ran BlackBerry PlayBook OS 2.0 software. It was the PlayBook OS running on smaller, phone-sized hardware. From there, BlackBerry continued to build upon and evolve the OS for the phone form factor. The image above illustrates this. There were clearly development versions of BlackBerry 10 that had a lot of PlayBook in them before the BlackBerry 10 UI and design elements took over and the recognizability of the PlayBook OS went away and BlackBerry 10 felt like something truly new.
Knowing that the PlayBook OS is within the BlackBerry 10 OS, it isn't a stretch as a PlayBook owner to think "I just want all of the BlackBerry 10 hotness - give it all to me for my PlayBook." Theoretically, it should be completely possible to bring all of BlackBerry 10 to the PlayBook. The only thing is, I don't think it would actually deliver a great user experience to PlayBook owners.
If you've been following all of the BlackBerry news of late, you will have noticed that recently the full version of BlackBerry 10 -- that's loaded on the BlackBerry Z10 -- leaked to the internet in a form that can be installed on the Dev Alpha B developer hardware. Anybody who has a Dev Alpha B can install this, and it makes your Dev Alpha B essentially into a Z10. The phone works and everything.
The Dev Alpha B device literally is a BlackBerry Z10 in an ugly and bulky housing, with one big exception - RAM. While the Z10 has 2GB of RAM, the Dev Alpha B only has 1GB of RAM. Having spent a lot of time with both devices, it's clear that 1GB of RAM is not enough to power BlackBerry 10. With 2GB of RAM under the hood, the Z10 is a lot smoother than the Dev Alpha B running the release build of BB10. Having the BlackBerry Hub always open and running requires memory. When you start to use the device and open apps, start to browse multiple tabs within the web browser, etc., you start using up that memory. 1GB just isn't enough to do all that. For example, on the Dev Alpha B you'll find the browser closes frequently as the device just runs out of RAM as you're browsing pages (especially if you open a few tabs). You'll also run into some occasional slow downs - a direct symptom of not enough memory.
The WiFi-only PlayBook tablet -- which represents the vast majority of PlayBook owners -- only has 1GB of RAM and its dual core processor runs at 1GHz, compared to the Z10's 2GB of RAM and 1.5GHz dual core processor. While the Z10 is buttery smooth, the Dev Alpha B w/ BB10 is not. And with a slower processor, I fear full-out BlackBerry 10 on the PlayBook would not run smooth at all. That would be a shame, especially how smooth the PlayBook runs today in its current form.
When it comes to asking BlackBerry PlayBook owners want they want most on their tablet, the unanimous answer is MORE APPS. To be sure, there are other things. Advanced features like DLNA still have not made their way onto the PlayBook. And the PlayBook would definitely benefit from an always-open email client, akin to the BlackBerry Hub. It takes too long to launch the email app in its current form.
When it comes to the design and basic user experience of the PlayBook and the PlayBook OS, most users I talk to love it. Having all four bezels around the display active for gestures is brilliant. The ability to jump between apps is fast and efficient. On a tablet form factor, it all works well. And PlayBook owners are used to it. Thinking along those lines, the way BlackBerry 10 is currently implemented on the Z10, it is optimized for a smaller device in a portrait orientation. The PlayBook UI is designed around a tablet-sized device that will mainly be used in landscape orientation. The Peek gesture of BlackBerry 10 makes a lot of sense on a phone. I'm not sure the Peek gesture would make as much sense when put on a tablet, given how you tend to hold a tablet differently than you do a phone.
Overall, I think its really the app and content ecosystem of BlackBerry 10 that we need up and running on the PlayBook. Right now, PlayBook apps can run on BlackBerry 10, but not the other way. If BlackBerry can bring over the underlying app framework they are using on BlackBerry 10 to the PlayBook, then that would open up PlayBook users to a lot more apps (there may be some oddness to contend with since the resolutions of the Z10 and PlayBook are a little off), especially as the BlackBerry 10 app story continues to gain momentum. We also need the new and improved BlackBerry World to hit the PlayBook, to unify movie and music purchases so they all run through one app and BlackBerry ID, vs. the multiple apps and accounts approach on the PlayBook today.
And that's really what we need most. I'd love to have email and the always-open Hub on the PlayBook, but I'm not sure the PlayBook's memory can cope with doing it all.
Bottom line, we want and the BlackBerry 10 apps. We're happy with the overall UI of the PlayBook. It seems like focusing on bringing that part of BlackBerry 10 to the PlayBook should go faster than bringing over the whole UI and Peek and Hub concept.
BlackBerry's CEO Thorsten Heins has drilled it into our brains that BlackBerry 10 is not just a phone operating system, but rather a mobile computing platform. Tablets play a role in mobile computing, and I'm sure down the road we will see BlackBerry make another tablet.
When they do that, they will need to more fully bring over BlackBerry 10 to the tablet form factor. I'm sure BlackBerry's next tablet will have greatly bumped up specs from the current PlayBook, that will be fully capable of running BlackBerry 10 (or 11). For that next BlackBerry tablet, that's when I'd like to see the full suite of bells and whistles in BlackBerry 10 hit the tablet form factor. But even then, I think the UI can't be identical to BlackBerry 10 on the phone - it will need to be optimized for tablet use. This is especially the case if they go with another landscape orientation tablet. Maybe with a more portrait orientation style tablet (iPad like dimensions) then the BlackBerry 10 phone UI would make more sense - I could see myself peeking into the Hub then.
For the BlackBerry PlayBook today though, what we need is a bandaid fix that brings us as much of BlackBerry 10 that will still allow the PlayBook to run smoothly. And we'd really like it sooner than later.