The BlackBerry PlayBook tablet was released today and devoted fans of Research In Motion rushed to test out the features on the long-awaited device. Many were disappointed though as PlayBook users with BlackBerry smartphones on AT&T were prohibited from downloading one of the key features of the device, the BlackBerry Bridge.
BlackBerry Bridge is the PlayBook application that allows users to connect information on BlackBerry smartphones to the tablet and enables the use applications on the tablet through the phone such as email, contacts and calendar, all of which are not yet native to the tablet. The application can also, theoretically, be used for tethering the PlayBook to a cellular network through the smartphone's data plan since the first version of the tablet are Wi-Fi only.
This is where AT&T probably had an issue with RIM. The carrier is not fond of letting consumers use its bandwidth on its network for free and that is precisely what the BlackBerry Bridge allows users to do. AT&T charges customers that want to use their smartphone data plans to tether to laptops and tablets $20 per month (as does Verizon).
In the past several months AT&T has been cracking down on users that have been working around the tethering fee, sending letters and text messages that say AT&T will automatically begin charging them the $20 fee if they do not stop using their smartphones as modems.
Without Bridge, the PlayBook loses a lot of its value. If there is one killer enterprise application for the BlackBerry tablet, it is the ability to ability to seamlessly transfer information from a BlackBerry phone. By blocking the application, AT&T has not just stopped users accessing its 3G network through the tablet but also from accessing functionality that RIM has said differentiates its tablet from other tablet devices on the market.
CrackBerry, the popular site dedicated to all things RIM, was the first to report the AT&T block. It has also posted a workaround for frustrated BlackBerry AT&T customers that, for now, seems to be working.
RIM has announced that it will release versions of the PlayBook in all the various "4G" (WiMax, HSPA+, LTE) flavors coming later this year but no launch date has been set. One official carrier partner - Sprint - has said it will partner with a WiMax version of the tablet, due sometime this summer.