Monday, July 18, 2011

PlayBook screen capture: what's right and what's not

If you don't know about it, you can capture a screen shot on the PlayBook by pressing the volume up and down buttons at the same time.  It's a very cool feature, and it lets you grab snapshots from games, websites, apps, etc, and it stores the pictures along with your photos.

You get a very nice little camera shutter click sound when you do it, giving you positive feedback that you got the shot you want.  So far so good.

Here's the problem.  If you try this when BlackBerry Bridge is enabled, it doesn't work.  This does make  sense.  For security reasons, the PlayBook won't let you capture screen shots from email, contacts, attached docs or pdfs when you're connected to your BlackBerry.  That keeps your enterprise content safe.  The problem isn't that the screen shot doesn't work with Bridge.  What's broken is the absolute lack of feedback to the user when the feature is disabled.

I was using my PlayBook to pay a parking ticket online.  I tried to capture the official government receipt, just in case I had to prove that I'd just paid it.  I don't do screenshots terribly often, but I have done it before.  I clicked the volume up and down buttons and nothing happened.  Nothing at all, no sound, no anything.  I switched to the picture app, and no picture.  Hmmm.  I went back to the browser and tried again.  No sound, no picture.

Oh crap!  I'd dropped the PlayBook last week on the ground, and didn't notice any damage, but I must have broken the volume buttons!  I looked for physical damage, but didn't see any.  I clicked the buttons independently.  Volume up.  Worked.  Volume down.  Worked.  Hmmmmm.

At this point, I figured I misremembered the keystroke.  So I tried all other combinations--volume up + play, volume down + play, volume up + volume down + play.  None worked.

Maybe it's a synchronization thing?  I tried pressing them very quickly at the same time, to be sure that they were being simultaneously pressed.  Nope.  Tried this 10-12 times.  Nothing.  A bigger Hmmmm.

Finally I resorted to the internet.  Went back to the browser, and looked for "broken screenshot playbook" and several other terms.  I finally found the missing link--BRIDGE!  It was not at all obvious that this was related--I was doing nothing with Bridge, it just happened to be connected.

So let me provide some humble advice for the next PlayBook firmware update.


It's a design decision to disable the screen snapshot when Bridge is connected.  But when you press the buttons play a small raspberry, or a thunk, or something other than the camera shutter sound.  That way the user will at least know that the PlayBook is refusing to do what you ask, and not that you're going insane or that your PlayBook is broken.  You might not know if the PB memory is full, the  disk is exhausted or something else, but at least you'll know something is wrong.

Better yet, try playing a small wav file that says "Disabled due to BlackBerry Bridge".  Unfortunately that would need to be localized in each language, and it takes a little more flash space to store the message.  But you then would immediately explain to the user what the problem is, and how to fix it.  And leave your customers a lot less frustrated.

In today's marketplace, where Apple is the golden boy and RIM is everyone's favourite punching bag, it pays to make everything BlackBerry as perfect as possible.


  1. Apple is and will always remain the golden boy ! RIM has lots to catch up and QNX alone can not solve all the issues.

  2. QNX is way better than whole Apple ...
    RIM needs to speed up stuff...
    And learn how to market a tablet beast!

  3. Aren't you part of that company... can't you just go to the responsible people and yell at them? Or is RIM so big that you don't know who's working next cubicle? Sad, then.

    Of course I totally agree with your article. The PlayBook still rocks. YOU DON'T NEED iTUNES, that is all I have to say about the Apple discussion.

  4. Even with Bridge disabling screen capture, you could just capture the screen using your BlackBerry... defeats the purpose really.