The BlackBerry PlayBook launch hasn’t gone as smoothly as RIM had hoped. Upon launch, it was plagued by mediocre reviews because of its BlackBerry Bridge tethering and lack of native email, and now 1,000 PlayBooks are being recalled from Staples due to a manufacturing issue that sounds suspiciously similar to the problem we encountered with our first PlayBook review unit.
I like the PlayBook and love how quickly RIM is putting out updates (biweekly), but the apps coming from RIM are, well, unfinished. They show signs of good design, but we’ve noticed a lot of small bugs and big problems with them so far. I don’t think RIM is wrong to push out apps quickly, but I think they might need to do bug and usability testing before releasing major apps. A little transparency would help as well.
Here are five apps and problems with the PlayBook that could really use a fix.
While I’m happy to have a native Facebook app on the PlayBook, RIM’s home-baked app is missing a lot of features. If you try to edit your account or settings, you get a message saying “This page cannot yet be viewed in this app” with a link to a browser page. Casual use has led me to discover that there is also no way to see or accept pokes, no way to upload multiple pictures, no way to filter news feeds, and no way to see full profile pages with likes and dislikes. Worse, posting a comment or anything on the site is a pain because the app’s textbox doesn’t auto capitalize, add apostrophes, or do any sort of punctuation. This may sound trivial, but computers do more auto correcting for us than we realize, especially on mobile devices like the PlayBook. Users on BlackBerry App World have also complained that the app lacks a lot of functionality surrounding “likes” and needs greater support for languages other than English. RIM has improved the app since rushing it out two weeks ago after its grand BlackBerry World announcement. When it first arrived, it was nearly unusable. Let’s hope the work doesn’t stop here.
Two weeks ago, RIM made a big deal out of its Video Chat app, going so far as to issue a press release and everything. If I were them, I would have kept quiet. Video chat doesn’t have the bugs and missing features that RIM’s Facebook app has… it’s just so useless that it might as well not exist at all. Video chat on Apple’s iPad 2 is limited to those who have FaceTime for iPhones, iPod Touches, and iPads. That’s annoying. The PlayBook’s Video Chat is more limited than that. It only works between PlayBooks. So, unless you and your friends all went out and bought PlayBooks together, you aren’t going to be doing much video chatting. I can’t tell you if the chat works because I don’t know anyone else who owns a PlayBook.
I was excited about RIM’s podcasting app when I got the PlayBook. Though it doesn’t connect or sync to any other podcasting services, I was able to find most podcasts I wanted to listen to. The problem: It doesn’t run in the background (or maybe it can’t). The chief job of a podcasting app is to download new episodes so that I can listen to them when I’m ready. The PlayBook doesn’t do this. If you don’t manually open the app and let it sit, you’ll never download a thing. It doesn’t seem to refresh podcast lists without handholding either. Very disappointing and mostly useless.
RIM’s app store is functional enough, but has some odd quirks that still need fixing. For instance, if you choose to download an app, there is no way to return to the category or search field you were in before you chose to install. So if you’re looking to install more than one app or just want to keep browsing, you have to retype in your search or go through the extensive categories to find your place again. There’s also no way to launch a newly installed app from inside App World, and there’s no way to know if you have app updates unless you manually check for them by opening App World. Google’s Android Market has had both of these features for some time.
I’ve also had some issues with certain app updates. My favorite PlayBook game, Aqualux, recently released an update. However, when I installed the update, it created a duplicate copy of the app on my system. So now I can choose to run a buggy, old version of the game or a new one that has none of my saved levels. This happened with one other app as well. Come on, guys! I’d like to play Aqualux, bug free.
App menus & alignment
This is a general complaint. While most PlayBook apps are looking very nice, they aren’t all following the same rules, including RIM’s apps. Not all apps use the downward swipe for menus and settings. In addition, there doesn’t seem to be a standard way to go “back” in an application. Some apps have a “back” button while others don’t. These issues aren’t major, but as RIM adds Android apps to its market, a set of intuitive interface standards would be nice.
Finally, a lot of apps seem to be locked into one orientation (landscape or horizontal). This isn’t such a bad thing, but the PlayBook needs to recognize which way a user is actually holding the PlayBook. Often, the unit confuses a bottom swipe (minimize) for a side swipe (hot swap between open apps). If I’m following the PlayBook’s rules, it should know how I’m holding the unit and understand my intentions. It’s confusing and a bit jarring when it doesn’t.
It’s getting better
As much as I’ve complained, RIM does appear to be updating the device as fast as it can. Still, I can’t help but feel like a beta tester for a product that is supposed to be finished. I have little doubt that the PlayBook will evolve into a stellar tablet throughout the course of the summer, but this first month has been a rocky road. A good part of the problem is with RIM itself, which is constantly pushing updates to users, but never explains what a single update is fixing or adding to the tablet.
A little communication would go a long way.
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