The Blackberry PlayBook is Not Confusing

By  |  Friday, January 7, 2011 at 6:09 pm

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.

 
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6 Comments For This Post

  1. David Says:

    I don't agree with your assessment of battery life to multitasking. I run three monitors on a Win7 x64 system with 9gigs running a variety of software and others OSes on my desktop. Multitasking is what I want become my power is virtually unlimited.

    But on my iPad I prefer battery life. I've got a crap laptop that gets just over one hour of batter,but hey, it can run everything in the background. The iOS multitasking handles 95% of the necessary tasks. If Apple provided an API to handle certain background tasks like RSS feeds, it would hit the other 4%.

    And in my experience with non-technical people, they just don't get multitasking. I don't think that "full" multitasking is going to be a mainstream compelling feature.

  2. WOW Says:

    The playbook is super sweet and i'm sure i won't be the only one buying one!

    If the ipad could multitask like that everyone would be like ohhh wow….but the ipad is a steaming pile of poop ;)

  3. JaredNewman Says:

    I don't think the laptop comparison is fair. My laptop lasts 9 hours on a charge, but I'm smart enough to realize that if I run a dozen programs at once, the power's going to drain in a hurry. The Playbook interface comes into play here because it always reminds you which apps are open — they appear as thumbnails whenever you visit the homescreen — and they can be shut down with one flick.

    Apple does things differently. It hides the apps from you and turns task management into a bit of a chore, with the rationale that you don't really need to close those apps anyway. Regardless of what percentage Apple's APIs cover, you don't get to see what the apps are doing behind closed doors. To me, that's frustrating.

    You may have a point about non-technical people, but I can only speak to what I personally think works best.

  4. David Says:

    How is doing nothing a chore? I don't manage anything on either the iPad or IPhone. Also, what do you need to see? I run three monitors when using my desktop and run tons of stuff, but my habits are different on the iPad. That's where I think the weakness in both the playbook and honeycomb is. I think that trying to duplicate the desktop is a mistake. The strength of iPad is that it "becomes" whatever you are using. If it gets too busy, the tablet is inferior to a laptop, IMO.

    Remember, the non-techies, ie, mainstream will make or break these products.

  5. ces Says:

    I'm not a tech guy but i can see the benefit of multitasking. if i'm on the playbook reading a book through kindle and suddenly i want to do something else i simply flick up and open another app/task.

    then simply flick back and the kindle app page i was on is right there. literally all in a second!

    other tablets only SWITCH apps. you don't have to be a tech guy to like this true multitasking feature. non tech people will buy it just because it's easy to use, fast, cool and DIFFERENT.

    all about marketing!

  6. @heulenwolf Says:

    The reduced battery life argument sounds like an excuse to me from Apple as their reason for not having true multitasking on the iPad. Yes, running multiple tasks reduces battery life but if the user chooses to do so that's not the device maker's fault. I surmise it is really more of a plausible excuse for Apple's true business reason. The iPad's strengths are its simple-to-operate Touch GUI and its 3rd party, full-screen, graphically-interactive applications (accessible through the highly successful App Store). Making 3rd party developers develop for both the situation where their app is in focus and is highly graphically-interactive and for the case where it's running in the background and essentially has no UI whatsoever complicates the platform. Handing these cases for developers directly through their API is hard work that requires more involvement from Apple with developers and accommodating what they may want to do. Apple's done its hard work on the iPad and wants to let the money roll in from it with only minor platform updates. Its much simpler and profitable to add the Pause on background functionality to their API and let their marketing machine head off the blowback.