As a long-time fan of the QNX operating system, I jumped at the chance to pick up a BlackBerry PlayBook. You can read my review but the short version is that, despite some early and obvious flaws, there’s a lot to like about the BlackBerry PlayBook. In my initial review, I mentioned BlackBerry Bridge and suggested that if you weren’t a BlackBerry smartphone owner, you should probably wait until native PIM and email apps before buying.
Well, I purchased a used BlackBerry 8900 (Torch) last week and have been playing with Bridge over the weekend. As I speculated, it brings a whole new level of value to the BlackBerry PlayBook. In fact, I would best that if more reviewers had been BlackBerry owners, initial reviews of the PlayBook would have been far more positive.
BlackBerry Bridge, as used on a Torch over the Rogers network, makes the PlayBook a fully-functional device. Not only that, the execution of Bridge is quite an elegant alternative to built-in native PIM and mail apps. While Bridge limits access by design, it very handily sidesteps a slew of potential security concerns and truly turns the PlayBook into a dual-function work and play device.
One difficult decision that I’ve had to make with both the Archos 70 and Coby Kyros was whether or not to configure the devices as fully-connected and integrated parts of my digital life. By this, I mean whether or not to sync the calendar, contacts, and mail to my usual accounts. Doing so is handy, I can look up an address or quickly check/edit my calendar, but it also means that I’ve had alarms in the bedroom at midnight for all-day events, and that I have to take care to lock the devices behind a PIN or password. Because of this, I have ended out removing mail and disabling my calendar and contacts accounts on the Android tablets.
With Bridge, I don’t need to make this call. If the tablet is close to my phone, I get access to PIM and mail over Bluetooth. If the phone is off or away, I don’t have to worry about the distractions of work. Honestly, now that I’ve had a chance to use Bridge, I vastly prefer it to the normal Android tablet approach. Not only that, I don’t need to worry about setting anything other than Bridge up. No per-device mail, calendar, and contact setup.
If I lend the PlayBook to a neighbour or friend, I don’t have to worry about wiping th device first. It’s actually quite liberating.
So, Bridge is very cool. I think it’s been a real missed-opportunity by RIM. Rather than trying to duck the missing native apps, I think they should have talked up Bridge and touted the behaviour as an advantage of the platform. Perhaps they should have even provided reviewers with BlackBerry phones with canned dummy content to show them how well it works.
Having used Bridge, I’m convinced that RIM is onto something here. Security of these tablet devices is a big unanswered question. They typically aren’t as close to you as cell phones, and locking them down as one might a laptop limits their usefulness. As a result, the potential for data loss is huge. RIM largely sidesteps these problems with Bridge. Perhaps instead of creating native PIM and email apps for the PlayBook, RIM should focus on bringing Bridge capabilities to iOS and Android, which would solidly position the PlayBook as a compliment to a smartphone. They could even continue to give away Bridge for BlackBerry but then sell Bridge for iOS and Android. As with the iPod/Mac halo-effect, this may gently prod potential users to the BlackBerry family of products, while keeping the BlackBerry smartphone as the centre of the attention.