Following up on last week’s two posts that coincided with the launch of the BlackBerry Playbook, iPad Competitor? and Infrastructure for New User Experiences, along with learnings from a recent Mobile Monday presentation on developer opportunities, this post will attempt to anticipate an example of the new user experiences that could result from the the technology behind the platform.
The primary question: Given that RIM wants PlayBook to become positioned as the tablet of consumer choice, can its technology foundation lead to the development of unique user experiences? Only if they bring unique benefits to the end user. But one can always speculate…
As background to this discussion, three comments:
- With my current BlackBerry Torch I have two applications that are triggered immediately, via the Bluetooth connection, when I get into my car:
- Make phone calls in a totally handsfree mode using the Voice Calling and Address Book applications on the BlackBerry
- Commence logging my driving activity for tax purposes.
- The PlayBook ads on local radio stations have highlighted three unique features:
- Complete web browsing experience
- Powerful applications
- True multi-tasking
- The BlackBerry Bridge feature, and a BlackBerry, are required to manage BlackBerry email, contacts and calendar – applications around which RIM built BlackBerry’s primary reputation. Great for enterprises that support secure BlackBerry communications but an inhibitor to broader consumer adoption until these native applications are available on the PlayBook. (Note also that Canada has carriers who do not charge additional for tethering.)
Certainly the three claims of their advertising ring true when it comes to the existence of the features. But what is the reality in terms of the user experience?
- The Browser: combining its Torch Mobile webkit-based browser roots with its support of Flash, it appears that PlayBook would certainly be ideal as a complete, fully-featured browsing platform. In fact, it would even allow access to the web-based versions of popular email programs, including GMail, Yahoo Mail, MobileMe and the many web versions of popular client based email programs such as Outlook Web App (formerly Outlook Web Access).
- Powerful applications: yes, there are some “powerful” applications (1700 according to this Mobile Gadgeteer report) that take advantage of the combination of QNX and a dual core processer. However, when I start using a new mobile device I initially look for clients that support cloud based services such as Twitter, Facebook, DropBox, Evernote, Four Square and the Google Mobile Apps suite of applications (Search, News, Mail, Maps, Docs, Calendar, Reader, etc.). Again all these services can be accessed via a web browser but they each have platform-specific clients to simplify the user experience and encourage adoption of the various services. However, they are lacking on PlayBook at launch time.
- True multi-tasking: yes, this has been a feature of BlackBerry from day one; the QNX O/S certainly provides an even more robust multi-tasking environment. But until we see applications that take full advantage of the potential horsepower, users will not be driven to adopt PlayBook, especially as a consumer device.
Doing the BlackBerry “Thing”
Rim built its reputation on email and the associated personal information management applications. However, this feature only becomes available if you have a BlackBerry. The good news is that, given my experience with other Bluetooth-associated applications, these applications should become accessible on the PlayBook whenever the two devices are within Bluetooth range; also the BlackBerry Bridge incorporates BlackBerry’s industry leading security features. The bad news is that you need to have a BlackBerry to be able to use the number one application that drove the original adoption of the BlackBerry.
The Video Experience
PlayBook, in spite of its support of both front- and rear-facing webcams, does not support any video calling application at this time. Yet again the demonstrations of video content running in background and the underlying Playbook horsepower certainly would portend to seeing a video calling application. PlayBook needs to be participating in the mobile video calling space currently served by Facetime, Skype and Qik. While PlayBook certainly has its attractions as a top-of-the-line media player device, its underlying technology would seem to support its evolution into supporting real time video conversations.
But, in addition to the user experience its technology could deliver, PlayBook needs to find a way to access a large enough contact base that would drive immediate adoption. The real issue becomes one of interoperability; whom can you readily call with the launch of a video calling service? And across what platforms? Certainly Apple, Google and Skype already have the large contact bases, well beyond the size of BlackBerry Messenger contact bases, that would be required to make a worldwide video calling application viable in the consumer market.
The Real Time Communications Experience
Which brings me to an application that would provide a significant boost to driving consumer adoption. Since the early 1980’s I have sold multi-tasking computers (yes, even mini-computers) and multi-tasking user experiences (DESQview). I have often commented on the value of BlackBerry’s multi-tasking. Most interesting is PlayBook’s lack of RIM’s heavily promoted BlackBerry Messenger application – one which I often use for private messaging to invited contacts; it could certainly take advantage of multi-tasking in some unique ways.
But there is one application lacking on BlackBerry devices that could demonstrate better than any other the benefits of multi-tasking on a QNX platform while driving consumer adoption. But there’s more! It also addresses the need for a video calling application that can immediately deliver an appropriate contact base.
With its support of voice, chat and video calling and its presence on a wide range of platforms, smartphones and other devices, Skype would be the ideal application to both demonstrate the power of PlayBooks’s technology infrastructure while driving accelerated consumer and prosumer adoption. Skype’s voice and video calls set the benchmark for voice quality and video resolution. Running chat in background as an interrupt-driven service, supporting desktop sharing and file transfer during voice and video calls are some of the Skype features that would perform best on a multi-tasking QNX platform with multiple webcams. And it would potentially become a benchmark mobile device for serving as a host for Skype’s Group Video Calling.
PlayBook Bottom Line:
At this time, PlayBook is a platform that demonstrates amazing potential for new user experiences. Its most immediate challenge is to bring into its applications library what many product managers would call the “hygienics” – the basic applications and services that users expect from any smart mobile device, whether smartphone or tablet. Google Mobile apps, Facebook, Twitter, Dropbox, Twitter, Evernote and Skype certainly fall into this requirement.
Skype serves as the most demanding example. With over 145 million active users across PC’s, smartphones (iPhone, Android, Symbian), TV’s and other devices), Skype has become one of those “hygienic” cloud managed services that consumers look for when making purchase decisions about smartphones and tablets. The business case is not about Skype-generated revenue; it’s not about competition with other services such as BlackBerry Messenger. Skype has become a “must have” application and makes the business case one about driving basic user purchase of the device. PlayBook provides all the technology infrastructure required, especially the video horsepower, to make Skype perform at its best on a mobile device.
As for introducing Skype on BlackBerry. Yes, Verizon and 3 customers can make calls to Skype contacts; however, only with a carrier-specific application. As demonstrated on iPhone, Android and Nokia smartphones, a carrier-agnostic Skype client would overcome a major barrier to consumer and prosumer adoption of not only PlayBook but also BlackBerry itself.
In conclusion Skype would not only provide a powerful demonstration of PlayBook’s underlying technology but also could be configured to provide one of the those “killer” applications that would establish user experience benchmarks for real time video calling, including conference calling.
Note: the image of a Skype icon on PlayBook shown above was reported by several bloggers when RIM first demonstrated PlayBook to the public at CES 2011; turns out this was an error. During March there came out reports that RIM may be developing a video calling app for PlayBook; this was vaguely confirmed in response to a question I asked at the Mobile Monday Toronto event. One primary issue is where would a large enough contact base come from? Certainly not BlackBerry Messenger with only 20+ million active accounts.