In starting from scratch, the Blackberry PlayBook faces a challenge not shared by iOS, Android or WebOS tablets: It will be completely foreign to all users.
Fortunately, navigating the PlayBook is dead-simple, provided you memorize a handful of little gestures. That was my big takeaway after a few minutes of hands-on time today — along with multitasking that blows the iPad out of the water.
Here are the six things you’ve got to know about the Blackberry Playbook interface:
- There are no buttons on the bezel. Everything’s done by swipes from the edge of the screen.
- Swiping upwards brings up a home screen of sorts, with an app tray on the bottom and thumbnails for currently open apps on top.
- Flicking those open apps upwards shuts them down completely.
- Swiping to the left or right from any open app brings up a different multitasking menu that only shows each app in nearly full-screen.
- Swiping diagonally from the bottom-left corner brings up a virtual keyboard.
- Swiping down inside the Web browser shows all open tabs in thumbnail view, so you can check on the progress of any loading pages.
There really isn’t much more to operating the PlayBook than that. I saw a couple other demonstrations — you can plug in an HDMI cable to share content with big screens, and you can sync contacts, calendars, tasks and messages to Blackberry phones via Bluetooth — but that’s just gravy.
As for multitasking, there’s just something better about managing apps yourself and knowing that anything can run completely in the background — you can see for yourself when all apps are in thumbnail view — even if battery life takes a hit.
Of course, I’m concerned as ever about the Playbook’s third-party app support. RIM’s booth units were focused entirely on the Web and built-in functions such as video. But kudos to RIM for laying a nice foundation with its interface.