Assessing the PlayBook's threat to the iPad

RIM is touting one potentially big advantage that its PlayBook tablet has over the iPad. It's still a big if, but it warrants a closer look.

Brooke Crothers Former CNET contributor
Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.
Brooke Crothers
2 min read

The BlackBerry PlayBook tablet ostensibly has one sizable advantage over the iPad. That is, of course, if RIM delivers and Apple doesn't respond.

The PlayBook's specs are impressive on paper. A 1GHz dual-core ARM processor, and multitasking based on RIM's QNX technology.

By touting these specs, Research In Motion is obviously trying to execute some serious one-upmanship vis-a-vis the iPad--even when allowing for the fact that the PlayBook won't appear until the first quarter, when Apple could potentially deliver a better iPad. Vaporware? Yes, at the moment. And building a large library of apps for the PlayBook is also problematic. But it's nonetheless an interesting exercise to speculate on it, since the PlayBook is garnering a lot of attention.

My first question is, will Apple have a dual-core iPad by then? A second core may seem like a trivial spec to some, but it can make a big difference (just witness the leap in performance that PCs made when Intel went dual-core).

Could the BlackBerry PlayBook leapfrog the iPad in multitasking?
Could the BlackBerry PlayBook leapfrog the iPad in multitasking? RIM

And part and parcel of having two cores is multitasking. Will the PlayBook surpass the iPad? This is how RIM puts it: "Watch a movie in one window, surf a Web site in another. Laptop? What Laptop?" More specifically, Dan Dodge, co-founder and CEO of QNX Software Systems (which RIM acquired in April) put it this way in a post to the Inside BlackBerry Developer's Blog. "The QNX Neutrino architecture can also support true multitasking on multicore hardware--in fact, its multicore prowess has been performance-proven in the world's highest-capacity routers. As a result, it can run multiple applications simultaneously, while delivering very high performance."

It would be interesting if this moved multitasking up a notch and forced Apple to respond in kind. (I own an iPad 3G and understand that there is multitasking of sorts already on the iPad and that this will improve with iOS 4.x)

And that brings up another potential advantage--though still very theoretical at this point. RIM does not have to position its tablet below higher-performance laptops (MacBooks) like Apple does. The more functionality, the more laptop-like, the better for RIM. In fact, there's nothing stopping RIM from eventually bringing out a tablet that's roughly analogous to a slider phone. Now, that would be perilously close to a laptop.

And let's not forget support for Adobe Flash and Air. It's easy to say "who cares" until you actually need a Flash-based app.

The point is, RIM has got my attention. And if they execute, the iPad will truly have some stiff competition.