Harry McCracken: ‘The Era of Beta Hardware’

Harry McCracken on RIM’s PlayBook:

The hardware is nice and the WebOS-like interface is fun. With a serious software update or three — and more apps — today’s disappointing PlayBook could be the powerful, professional-grade tablet that RIM has been bragging about for months. It’s just that the company essentially released an unfinished product, presumably because it was so very anxious to get into the tablet market before other iPad alternatives had a chance to get an edge.

Motorola’s thinking with the Xoom seems to have been similar: It shipped a tablet with a 3G data connection and a promise of a free 4G upgrade and a MicroSD slot that didn’t work.

I don’t understand why so many reviewers bend over backwards to grade these things on a curve. If the iPad 2 had the problems and deficiencies the Xoom and PlayBook have, these same reviewers would (rightly) trash it, and declare (again, rightly) that Apple had finally lost its Midas touch.

These aren’t “beta” tablets. They’re bad tablets. It’s that simple. It’s true that their hardware seems closer to iPad-caliber than their software, but improving software is the hardest part of making products like these. By the time RIM releases “a serious software update or three” the entire market will have changed. The truth is, Motorola, Samsung, and now RIM have released would-be iPad competitors that pale compared to the iPad. Just say it.

The mass market doesn’t buy, and doesn’t want to buy, products based on what they might become months from now if these companies somehow dramatically improve the software. They buy products for what they are today, out of the box. Motorola and RIM and Samsung are Apple’s industry peers. These are the big leagues, this is The Show. They’re charging customers real money to buy these things. They should be judged by the same standards. Judging these things on a curve is the flip side of my criticism of Walt Mossberg’s iPad 2 review:

Stating the plain truth, that the iPad 2 has no serious competition as a mainstream consumer device, doesn’t make you biased. It makes you accurate.

Thursday, 21 April 2011