When Apple came out with the iPad, I asked myself a question many of us have asked. “Why do I need one? What’s missing by not having one?”

As talk of BlackBerry joining the tablet field grew, I decided to hold off at least until the Playbook came out. That day happened just a few weeks ago. I did buy the Playbook, and this post will share my reasoning. Hopefully, it will help others who are faced with the same decision.

What Hole Does It Fill?
My BlackBerry smartphone gives me the ultimate in portability. All of my precious Outlook data goes with me in my pocket. I have a camera, video recorder, voice recorder, and pretty much the kitchen sink, and it’s all on something about the size of deck of cards.

My laptop gives me the full computing power of a desktop computer. I have the Office suite. I can log onto a Wi-Fi hotspot at any number of locations. I can compose document. I can give PowerPoint presentations.

So what’s missing? What hole would a tablet fill? What would it do better than the tools I already have? What would it not do as well as the tools I already have?

I did try to keep an open mind. After all, my laptop is almost five years old. It’s still running Windows XP. Even though I replaced the hard drive only a year ago, I would be due for a new laptop at some point anyway. Would a tablet be a suitable replacement?

Getting the Size Right
When you take a step back and look at the technology industry over time, a great deal of experimentation has gone into getting the size right. We want small. At the same time, we want something with enough size to make reading comfortable. And, of course, we want portability. Our laptops have gotten smaller and lighter. Then came the netbook. We have smartphones that fit in our pockets. There is even talk of building the whole device into something that looks like a wristwatch. Just when we think we are on a one-way trip to smaller and smaller, out comes the tablet, and size goes the other way.

The smartphone wins the prize for portability, but reading a novel from the small screen just isn’t going to cut it. The screen on the laptop has the size, but you can’t exactly stand in line at he grocery store and read a chapter from your e-book on it.

The tablet seems to be the happy medium. After not quite two weeks with the Playbook, I am finding reading from it as easy and enjoyable as reading from the pages of a book. For the first time, I can actually see myself leaning towards digital books. I could easily see myself whipping it out in the middle of an airplane flight regardless of how cramped the quarters are. With a much longer battery life than my laptop, I don’t have to look for a plug in order to work for more than a couple of hours.

Tablets are considerably lighter than a laptop. If I were still a principal, I would definitely be doing my “walk-throughs” with a tablet and a Google Docs form. (More on that subject will be coming in the future.) I think we now have the size right.

Consumer or Creator or Both?
Keyboarding on the Playbook is not as easy as keyboarding on the laptop. Then again, the keyboard on my laptop is not nearly as comfortable as the keyboard on my desktop. I am certainly not the first to say that the tablet is built for consumption while the laptop is built for creation.

Examine your own lifestyle. When you are on the go, are you spending most of your time reading what others have written or composing your own stuff? The answer to that question might drive your decision as to whether or not to buy a tablet.

Why a Playbook?
Much of the reason for buying a PlayBook is because my smartphone is a BlackBerry. Through the BlackBerry Bridge, I am able to see every bit of my Outlook data on the PlayBerry via a Bluetooth connection.

I am somewhat disappointed in the monthly calendar view on the Playbook. The BlackBerry handheld shows your appointments as dots when using the monthly view. A dot at the top of the square represents an appointment early in the day while a set of three means your day is pretty packed. To see what those appointments are means selecting a different view. I hoped the monthly view on the Playbook would yield a readable calendar, but no such luck.

The Task module is also a disappointment. Unless I am missing something, you see the entire list sorted alphabetically, and no tasks are filtered out because they have start dates in the future. This arrangement means if I have a task that starts with the letter “A,” yet cannot do it for for sevral months, it’s still going to sit at the very top of the list.

The Contacts, MemoPad, and Messages are my favorites on the Playbook. The screen size makes reading e-mail much more enjoyable than on the handheld. The layout of the Contacts and MemoPad are both excellent.

Size Revisited
The Playbook is smaller than the iPad. At 7” X 5 ¼”, the Playbook will just barely slide into the outside coat pocket of a man’s suit or sports coat. I don’t know if that was by design, but it’s not a bad feature when you are looking at options for how to carry the device. Because the Playbook is small, keyboarding with two thumbs while holding the device is very easy.

Dual Monitors
I swear by dual monitors on a desktop computer. For me, it was a huge productivity boost, and I would never think of going back. Here is the most recent blog post I have written on that subject.

The Playbook teamed with my BlackBerry handheld gives me dual monitors on the go. What happens when you are reading an e-mail but have to consult your calendar? With this “dynamic duo,” I can view e-mail on one device while I am checking the calendar on the other.

We have always had the capability to manage a phone call on the BlackBerry handheld while still performing other tasks. You could talk while checking a date on the calendar or referring to notes stored on the device. This meant that you had one of two options. You could plug your earpiece into the BlackBerry and then hold the device in front of you to navigate. Of course, this assumes you have that earpiece with you. The other option is to turn on your speaker phone, which may or may not be OK, depending on who you may be disturbing or how sensitive the nature of your conversation might be.

With the BlackBerry handheld and Playbook together, I can talk with the phone to my ear while I check a calendar date on the Playbook, look up a website, or pull up a document. I see this point as a huge plus for not only using a tablet, but using this particular tablet.

Looking into the Future
Ten years from now, or even five years from now, what will people say about the current movement towards tablets? Will it be seen as the beginning of a major change in the way we work and play? Or, will it be seen as a fad that came and went? Read enough magazine articles and you will see arguments for both schools of thought.

None of us has that crystal ball. The best we can do is use the information before us now and make our decision based on it..but then to go a couple of steps further. First, we can put the Playbook, or whatever tablet we choose, through its paces. Explore the possibilities. Find the ways the tablet can replace some current practices on our lives. In particular, we can figure out how to use the combination of screen size and portability to help us make use of potential “down” time—waiting at the doctor’s office, time on the airplane, even waiting in line.

Secondly, we can share best practice. This stuff is all so new that nobody has all of the answers. Yet, lots of us are finding some things worthy of sharing. That’s why I wrote this post…to take what little experience I have had and give someone else that much of a leg up, in hopes they will do the same for someone else.

Anyone else have a Playbook? What are your experiences? Considering getting one? What are your thoughts?