It was late Monday evening at JFK International Airport when I had an unexpected encounter. As I walked towards the British Airways lounge, I noticed a store advertising the Blackberry Playbook. The mounds of scathing reviews for the device had me wondering – “What is so bad about the Playbook?” Interested, I decided to pop into the store for a quick look.

Before I continue, I must admit that I wield an Android smartphone, iPad and PC laptop (although I did have a Macbook Pro when it first came out). I consider myself well versed in new technology products and am an avid reader of BGR and Engadget. I have few “party” affiliations. But, I digress…

As I held the Playbook in my hands, I was surprised at how well-built it felt. But perhaps most intriguing was how fast the machine was. I thought back to my Android phone (before I put a custom OS on it) and how laggy it was “out of the box.” The same goes for the Samsung Galaxy tablet I played with at the ATT store the other day. In a world of instant gratification, instant performance is paramount. This “instant gratification” element, I feel, qualifies or disqualifies a device from the race. Once qualified, other factors determine who the winner is (e.g., number of apps, features, etc). These secondary factors is where the Playbook falls short.

One might say, “Chuck – Android activations have grown well beyond that of iPhones.” While that is true, other external elements are in effect in which mobile operator choice and incentives undoubtedly play a part. In other products where there are no restrictions (e-readers, tablets, computers) growth favors devices that are snappy, load quickly, and deliver features that people want. The winner, clearly, is Apple, which single-handedly took over the e-reader and tablet market with the iPad. I contend that it was quickness of the device and operating system as much as the “apps” that allowed it to rise so quickly to prominence. It is something that companies who manufacturer devices for Android consistently fail to realize, and until they do, I expect it will very difficult to compete outside the mobile phone market. To differentiate themselves, companies must keep in mind Professor Kevin Lane Keller’s idea of “points of parity,” which states that a company must perform at a certain level of customer expectations to “be in the game”.  That is why, I believe, e-readers and Android powered devices (other than mobile phones) have fallen by the wayside and also why sales of Macs are growing at an exponentially high rate.

My suggestion for Android? Android-touting companies should work on tweaking the Android software so that it works quicker than the competition, rather than stuffing it full of features that no one uses or wants. Who uses the features of Samsung Touchwiz? I sure don’t know anyone who does. (I pick on Android, by the way, because it inhabits the hardware of almost all touchscreen devices, from the Nook to the Xoom.)

Back to the original question, “What is so bad about the Playbook?” Well it certainly qualifies based on upbeat reviews by CNET, BGR and Engadget. But does it compete? Does an app store really matter if it can perform all of the functionality needed (obviously it can’t yet because it lacks a native email client and video chat application). Surprisingly, Apple, for the longest time, was a proponent of “it can perform all the functionality you need” until the advent of the iPhone and the app store. Now, they have replicated the same concept throughout their products and just recently to desktop/laptops. Perhaps the “app-store” concept has become a point of parity. An “airbag” of mobile phones, even if one doesn’t intend on using, one still requires at purchase. I have likely raised more questions than answers in this post, but there is clearly a philosophical debate raging and I am, as everyone else is, eagerly awaiting the next evolution of devices.

With that, I will wrap this up in saying that my own personal points of parity for touchscreen devices are:

  1. Responsive
  2. Great UI (easy to navigate)
  3. Can do what I need (e.g., send an email)
  4. Quality hardware

Once those are met, my points of differentiation are:

  1. Price
  2. Can do what I want (e.g., play a game)
  3. Interconnectivity with other devices

Interested in hearing your views? Also, looking beyond app store, what is the next big thing? Is it the cloud? web applications? Or even 3-D?

Image obviously copyright of Apple.

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