RIM BlackBerry PlayBook surprises by dropping a division while upping the game


By now I'm sure many of you have heard about the RIM BlackBerry PlayBook announced at the BlackBerry Developer Conference last week. Rumors of the device had been circulating for a while but that didn't stop Research In Motion from surprising us with a few things about its latest creation. For me, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the PlayBook is a 7-inch tablet, which was consistent with an earlier rumor but contrary to the majority of information indicating it would be a 9-inch+ device in the same vein as Apple's iPad. The 7-inch size is probably the best compromise between usability and portability for a tablet and pitches the PlayBook into an interesting and very competitive market segment. But luckily, RIM has ensured the device is able to hold its own with the initial specifications being very impressive.

In addition to being equipped with a 7-inch WSVGA capacitive touch screen, the PlayBook is powered by a 1GHz dual-core ARM Cortex-A9 CPU, has 1GB of RAM, a/b/g/n WiFi, Bluetooth 2.1, front (3MP) and rear (5MP) facing cameras, is capable of 1080p HD video playback, and has microUSB and HDMI connections. Internal storage is unknown but prototypes were spotted with 16 and 32GB markings on their rear panels. Physically, the tablet measures a handy 7.6 x 5.1 x 0.4 inches and weighs 14.11 ounces. As for the operating system, the PlayBook marks a departure from RIM's BlackBerry smartphone OS, opting for a new QNX-based operating system developed by the recently acquired QNX Software Systems. Called the BlackBerry Tablet OS, the platform supports multitasking, HTML5, Adobe Flash 10.1, Adobe AIR, and OpenGL.

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Positioned by the company as a professional tablet for business users, the PlayBook touts close integration with existing BlackBerry devices and services using methods such as Bluetooth tethering. But apart from the productivity angle, it's clear that RIM also has its eye on the wider mass market with plenty of appealing multimedia and gaming features to stand toe-to-toe with the competition. The all-new platform does mean a lack of apps currently, and it will be fascinating to see whether the app development community will embrace BlackBerry Tablet OS. RIM is hopeful that the platform should provide a good environment for app development, with its support of Flash, Air, and Java in addition to its native SDK. The big question of price has gone unanswered so far, but we do know that the PlayBook is set to launch in the US early next year.

From what we know so far, I think the PlayBook looks like it has a lot of potential in terms of hardware and software, but with large question marks hanging over the final quality and success of BlackBerry Tablet OS, the app support, and the price, we'll have to wait and see whether the device lives up to expectations.

I think it's a smart move for RIM to initially aim the product more at their existing BlackBerry business market in order to get a foothold and build up some market share before going after the mass market. A lot will definitely depend on the final retail price and RIM's ability to get good support for the new platform, but I think this is looking like a pretty strong and welcome entry into the crowded tablet space that will be worth watching.

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Jeremy To

Jeremy is a former editor at Pocketables.

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