Blackberry PlayBook has a Fighting Chance

Research in Motion unveiled the Blackberry PlayBook yesterday, its homespun competitor to the iPad. The PlayBook is about half the size of an iPad but with some superior features, will come out in early 2011 in the same price range as the iPad. The PlayBook is targeted at businesspeople. NPR reports:

The PlayBook will be able to act as a second, larger screen for a BlackBerry phone, through a secure short-range wireless link. When the connection is severed — perhaps because the user walks away with the phone — no sensitive data like company e-mails are left on the tablet. Outside of Wi-Fi range, it will be able to pick up cellular service to access the Web by linking to a BlackBerry.

But the tablet will also work as a standalone device. RIM co-Chief Executive Jim Balsillie said its goal is to present the full Web experience of a computer, including the ability to display Flash, Adobe Systems Inc.’s format for video and interactive material on the Web. That means the tablet will be less dependent on third-party applications or “apps,” Balsillie said.

In part, the PlayBook is a move by RIM to protect its position as the top provider of mobile gadgets for the business set. Balsillie says he has had briefings with company chief information officers and “this is hands-down, slam-dunk what they’re looking for.” Analysts agree that RIM’s close relationship with its corporate clients could help the company establish a comfortable niche in the tablet market despite Apple’s early lead.

The iPad has prompted a wave of competitors, so RIM won’t be alone going after the tablet market. Computer maker Dell Inc. came out with its own tablet computer in August called the Streak. Samsung Electronics Co. plans to launch the Galaxy Tab next month and has already lined up all four major U.S. carriers to sell it and provide wireless service for it. Cisco Systems Inc. is also going after business customers with a tablet called the Cius early next year.

Engadget has more tech specs on the PlayBook. It doesn’t seem to have 3G/4G connectivity yet, nor is there any mention of battery life. Research in Motion will address those features later. But it does have tethering, something the iPad woefully lacks.

If Research in Motion prices the PlayBook in the same range as the iPad, it will be a viable competitor, unlike some of RIM’s other recent products (the Torch comes to mind).

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