Monday night’s LSN London networking event at The Anthologist in Gresham Street attracted a large crowd of law firm business support professionals. It was as well organised as usual, with different coloured name badges designating representatives of finance, IT, HR, marketing, KM and so on. The event included a preview of the new BlackBerry PlayBook which attracted the entire spectrum of coloured badges! With a green badge for IT prominently on display (orange was for something else!) Joanna Goodman spoke to Dan Sloshberg from BlackBerry who highlighted its main features.
 
Introducing the PlayBook
The PlayBook is positioned as an alternative to the iPad. As most law firms already support BlackBerry devices, they could well be interested in rolling out a BlackBerry tablet rather than an Apple one.
 
One of the PlayBook’s main advantages is that it tethers to a BlackBerry via Bluetooth. This provides seamless access to all the features on your BlackBerry – email, calendar, contacts; Citrix and other software applications supported by your firm; and BlackBerry App World for business and leisure apps including BBM instant messenger. It can also sync with iTunes, so you can load your existing music collection. Although the PlayBook will initially be available only in black, apparently more colours and accessories are planned.
 
The PlayBook is noticeably slimmer and lighter than the iPad v1 at 5.1 inches tall and 7.6 inches wide compared with the iPad’s 9.7 inch screen. This makes it even more portable – its size is comparable to a Kindle – and the hi-definition screen means it is easy to read text – documents or emails – and view video content.
 
BlackBerry vs Apple
The Bluetooth set up automatically enhances security. If you lose the Bluetooth connection, you lose access to corporate information. So if someone steals the BlackBerry, they will not be able to access corporate email accounts or other corporate information you may have been using – any web pages that are open when you lose the connection automatically close too.
 
The PlayBook operating system powered by QNX, purchased by RIM last year, is robust and supports multitasking. This differentiates it from the iPad as it enables several applications to run simultaneously. For example you can listen to music while reading a document or open video and other multimedia content while writing a document or a presentation. You simply minimise the screen and the movie/music continues playing. This addresses one of the main issues that users highlight when asked what improvements they would make to the iPad – the ability to multitask.
 
The PlayBook supports Adobe Flash, so you can view any website. This may be a perceived advantage as not all websites use Flash and website technology is continually evolving.
 
Another major advantage is that the PlayBook has a USB port and HDMI video output – so you can transfer content between devices and for example show a presentation you have created on or saved to the PlayBook on a larger screen.
 
There was no confirmation on the important considerations of battery life and pricing, although apparently there has been mention of a $500 price tag.
 
Challenging the iPad?
The big question is around the extent to which the PlayBook challenges the iPad’s position as market leader. I borrowed an iPad to compare the size and weight of the two tablets. The Playbook may resonate with law firms because it would enable them to leverage existing security arrangements and policies set up through the BlackBerry servers. It would also enable them to get more value from their original investment in BlackBerry products.
 
The iPad user observed that although law firm IT departments already support BlackBerry and might be more tempted to roll out the PlayBook rather than the iPad, many individuals within firms already use their own iPads for work purposes – for taking notes in meetings or creating documents. Last year RIM purchased DataViz, which produces Documents to Go and the PlayBook comes with this software already loaded.
 
Would he swap his iPad for a PlayBook? The answer – only if it was given to him by his firm, whereas he had bought his own iPad – indicates that notwithstanding its popularity among teenagers, the BlackBerry is still perceived as a business tool, whereas the iPad is already a design icon. It will be interesting to find out whether BlackBerry is about to challenge Apple’s supremacy, particularly in the consumer market.

Comment: Irony, irony …writes CC. We had hoped to publish this story yesterday but I was in London with only my iPad for company and I could not cut and paste from the Word document (this review was written in) on to my iPad's rendition of this blog's input page. Along with pricing uncertainty, RIM have yet to confirm shipping dates in the UK and even third-party developers of BlackBerry apps and integrations are reporting difficulty in getting their hands on a PlayBook. Meanwhile the iPad 2 is already shipping in the US, where a colleague describes the device as “much, much faster and much more responsive in every way” than the original iPad