RIM has finally entered the tablet market, confirming many of the earlier rumours that the firm was readying such a device.
However, the launch has raised question marks over whether a BlackBerry tablet can compete against rivals such as the iPad, even if RIM is aiming at its traditional stronghold of the enterprise market.
The BlackBerry PlayBook, unveiled at RIM's 2010 Developer Conference in San Francisco, has a 7in multi-touch display and follows the slate-style design that is now characteristic of tablet computers.
The device is set to be available early in 2011 in the US, coming to other markets later in that year.
However, RIM also pulled a few surprises out of the bag. The PlayBook does not run the same software as its BlackBerry smartphones, but a new platform called BlackBerry Tablet OS based on the QNX Neutrino real-time operating system that RIM acquired earlier this year.
The PlayBook also lacks a 3G mobile network connection, although RIM said that it may add this capability in future models.
Instead, the device relies on Wi-Fi to access the web, or can pair up with a BlackBerry smartphone via Bluetooth to access corporate email on a BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES).
This latter feature shows that, despite the PlayBook name, RIM is aiming the new device at enterprise users, and specifically those who have already invested in BlackBerry infrastructure at the back end.
"Although more than 50 per cent of RIM's sales are now consumer, this device seems like it is designed to appeal to RIM's older enterprise market," commented Duncan Stewart, director of research at Deloitte.
Other industry observers indicated that the device is an attempt to stem Apple's inroads into the enterprise market with the iPhone and iPad, which might explain the decision to tie the PlayBook to a BlackBerry for email access.
However, RIM has already defended this arrangement, stating that enterprise customers do not want the extra administrative overhead of securing and managing a second device for corporate email access.
If users already have a BlackBerry, the reasoning goes, why not make use of the smartphone's existing connection to the BES?
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