Niall’s virtual diary archives – Tuesday 31st July 2012

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Tuesday 31st July 2012: 12.18am. So, I finally got my new second hand +BlackBerry  #playbook  working and up to date with the bleeding edge v2.1 beta Playbook OS. First impressions: I really wasn't expecting it to match or exceed Android 4.0, yet it repeatedly does - for the most part.

Things way better than #Android or #iOS : multitasking, task switching, having a touch sensitive bezel you can do gestures with, third party services integration (e.g your email, your #Google account including contacts and agenda, your #Facebook , your #LinkedIn , your #Paypal , your #Twitter ... the list goes on), and excellent support of office documents which is leagues ahead of anything else. In these things neither the #iPad nor any Android tablet can touch the Playbook. In these things it is truly superb. You should see how well they've done the Contacts page - it even includes an automated bio per contact groked from LinkedIn/Facebook which is very handy for reminding you of a person before a meeting.

Things as good as Android 4.0 or iOS 6: the web browser, the camera, music and video support including gallery, weather, news. All perform smoothly (though the camera app on Android 4.1 beats all else) and are fairly feature equal apart from effect filters which apparently are coming very soon now.

Things not as good as Android but as good as iOS: the keyboard. It's as good as iOS apart from the lack of hold press to shift character set, and you can install third party keyboards like Android. But I can't draw my words, nor is there an app that lets me so far. So text entry is slow and frustrating for me compared to Android. Blackberry needs a port of #Swype  or #SlideIT  urgently.

Things not as good as Android and iOS: the App Store. It's not the lack of apps as the Playbook has lots of Android apps ported over thanks to its built in Android emulator, so there's actually a ton of apps (even if the Android emulator can be a little flaky sometimes and it feels unnatural as instead of gesturing left Playbook style it has to emulate the Android back button for which they aliased a new, separate gesture from bottom right to top left). No, the problem is the App Store itself. It's slow, laggy, animations run at 8-10fps, it looks terrible, is clunky and keeps refusing to download apps for me. There is no way of simultaneously finding the most popular and most highly rated apps and free apps i.e. the ones you want. It needs replacing with something useful rather than this toy app store. Entirely replaced. It also needs a web front end as often browsing for apps on a PC and pushing them at devices is much more convenient than from the device itself.

The other big problem is that like iOS but unlike Android, on Blackberry the apps you get for free on Android cost money here. I don't mind paying €1 for something really useful and well written, but I do object to paying €5 for a SSH terminal app and I certainly object to paying for a file manager. Hell, even the Google+ launcher meta-app costs €0.75 which is ridiculous - even on iOS you can get a cracking, full featured app for €0.75. Not a web page launcher. That isn't an app, it's a shell script.

Now, stuff that Android 4.0 does which Playbook OS 2.1 doesn't isn't much actually. One huge admission appears to be widgets: Playbook OS doesn't appear to do those at all. There isn't much of voice dictation, and certainly nothing remotely close to Siri or Google Now. I don't find any of these useful (maybe they're more useful in the US), so little loss to me. Unfortunately there's no NFC, Face Unlock, or Bluetooth HDP/LE. Unlike the voice stuff, I do use those or intend very shortly to use those.

So, all in all I must admit surprise at how mature the platform already is. Playbook OS 2.1 easily beats any Android pre-4.0 hands down and apart from the App Store, is as buttery smooth as Android 4.1 (but not quite iOS yet) despite being on much older hardware. The app store is plenty full of apps, albeit they cost and from the few free apps I've tried the average quality is poor unless they came from Android.

I know I'll be starting work with RIM on #bb10  in October, so you take what I say here with a pinch of salt if you like. However, in my opinion this is a very viable platform indeed. If they keep up this pace of development they'll be streets ahead come Q1 2013. Now they just need the ecosystem in place to support the product, and of course that's where my future job in Native SDK comes in.

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