RIM unveils BlackBerry PlayBook tablet

Research In Motion (NASDAQ:RIMM) today officially joined the tablet game with the release of its new PlayBook device, a BlackBerry tablet with a 7-inch screen, support for Adobe's Flash and--at least initially--wireless connections limited to WiFi and Bluetooth.

Click here for BlackBerry PlayBook videos, pictures and specs.RIM said the device will be available in retail outlets starting early next year. The company did not provide pricing details for the gadget. According to the Wall Street Journal, Best Buy is in talks to sell the gadget.

RIM President and co-CEO Mike Lazaridis described the tablet as "BlackBerry amplified," and noted it will provide an "uncompromised Web experience" with "true multitasking." Lazaridis' wording appeared to represent subtle digs at tablet market leader Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), which has found massive success with its new iPad tablet. Apple's tablet currently does not support multitasking or Adobe's Flash technology.

Much of RIM's announcement was tipped last week by the Wall Street Journal, which reported the company would announce a tablet with a 7-inch screen powered by software from QNX (RIM purchased QNX Software in April for $200 million). During his unveiling of the PlayBook, Lazaridis praised QNX as a hardened software platform that has been used in a wide range of markets.

Lazaridis unveils RIM’s new BlackBerry PlayBook tablet."You don't build a skyscraper on a house foundation," Lazaridis said, explaining that QNX supports a range of high-end functions and features.

Indeed, RIM's new PlayBook tablet sports a stunning list of specifications: 1 GHz dual-core processor, 1 GB of RAM, dual HD cameras (a 3-megapixel camera on the front and a 5-megapixel camera on the back), WiFi, Bluetooth and support for WebKit/HTML5 Internet technologies as well as Adobe Flash Player 10.1, Adobe Mobile AIR and more.

But the PlayBook's approach to wireless connections is perhaps the most interesting element of RIM's tablet strategy. The first iteration of the gadget will not connect to 3G or 4G networks; instead, it will connect to WiFi or existing BlackBerry smartphones through Bluetooth. RIM said such pairing will allow users to "use the larger tablet display to seamlessly and securely view any of the email, BBM, calendar, tasks, documents and other content that resides on (or is accessible through) their smartphone." Such pairing also will allow the PlayBook to tap into RIM's BlackBerry Enterprise Server--the company said that "when connected over Bluetooth, the smartphone content is viewable on the tablet, but the content actually remains stored on the BlackBerry smartphone and is only temporarily cached on the tablet (and subject to IT policy controls)."

Lazaridis pointed out that the Bluetooth pairing scenario means "no new data plan" for PlayBook owners. Left unsaid by Lazaridis is that the strategy also likely eliminates new revenue streams for wireless carriers.

To be clear, though, RIM does intend to add wide area wireless connections to future versions of the PlayBook. The company said it will "offer 3G and 4G models in the future," but did not provide details.

RIM joins a crowded tablet market. Sparked by Apple's success in the space, companies including Samsung, Motorola (NYSE:MOT), LG, Hewlett-Packard and others have either announced tablets or plan to do so. Already all four Tier 1 U.S. wireless carriers have said they will sell Samsung's GalaxyTab tablet.

RIM's PlayBook headlined a range of developer-focused announcements from the company, which is hosting its annual developer conference through Thursday in San Francisco. The company also announced a new Web-friendly BlackBerry application development platform, dubbed BlackBerry WebWorks, as well as a BlackBerry advertising service and its BlackBerry Social Platform, which opens the company's BlackBerry Messenger service to developers.

For more:
- see this PlayBook release
- see these PlayBook videos, pictures and specs
- see this FierceDeveloper article
- see this FierceMobileContent article
- see this WSJ article (sub. req.)

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