Points of Parity and Touchscreen Devices

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.

Posted in Legacy.


  1. I don’t know much about the cloud to know its usefulness, though I do know iCloud is coming out in the near future (as MAC continues to take over). Although I have some gripes involving electronic aesthetics. To be blunt, 3D is getting a little stale. 3D Movies were novel — Avatar in 3D was great — but I don’t think it will ever catch on as much as people believe. The last movie I saw in 3D, Pirates of The Caribbean 4000 or whatever, was terrible. The 3D made it worse because you were constantly trying to focus on different events that were happening too fast for the human eye to notice. I saw this effect more with each 3D movie I saw and even noticed it during Avatar — of course I was too pumped at that moment to care.

    My prediction is that 3D technology is going to fall behind and while it may stay in demand, it will be nothing more than a side feature of the future of television. Implementing 3D technology into other devices will also end up being nothing more than a fad, that will soon go out of style.

    Samsung’s new near-boarderless TV on the other hand will be setting the precedent for newer televisions and devices because it really does make it more aesthetically pleasing. Adding this technology to phones and tablets like the iphone will certainly be a plus. Slimmer, smaller, and more screen will always be at the top of the aesthetic chart.

  2. Thank you Joe. To answer your offline question about the Playbook. My thoughts:
    The Good
    – Great piece of hardware, feels really nice in the hand.
    – The screen size is actually pretty good. I was skeptical on 7 inches, but I think as long as I don’t use it to type a novel, I will be fine.
    – The gestures are very nice and very intuitive. There are really no buttons, other than the on off switch, so switching between apps is very easy.
    – No lag at all on the OS, feels like the iPad in that respect.
    – Keyboard is very responsive and doesn’t get stuck (a gripe I have with my Samsung Captivate).
    – The blackberry bridge is actually pretty cool, and could be an alternative to having to buy separate data plans. There are no wires, you can do it through bluetooth which is pretty nice.
    – Flash – I can finally watch family guy and south park in bed!

    The Bad
    – App store is lacking, but that brings me back to a previous point in my post – does it even matter? If it does everything I need ?
    – No native email / video / bbm app (although they are coming out with one, or already have)
    – Expensive, could have been priced slightly cheaper to entice people away from the iPad

    All and all, great device. I think they surprised a lot of people. I do hope they roll out the OS on the Playbook to blackberry devices soon. It will likely entice me to switch back.

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