Research in Motion executives came out in force Thursday evening in New York, playing hosts at the industry launch of the PlayBook tablet in an effort to convince market watchers and potential users that the device is a serious contender in an arena dominated by Apple's iPad.
The event was a party, rather than a traditional announcement, with a DJ spinning songs and bars and tables set up for cocktails. Company officials mingled and glad-handed with the crowd rather than taking to the podium with canned speeches.
But the PlayBook, due to go on sale April 19, faces an uphill battle, even though some early reviews have praised the user interface, based on software acquired when RIM bought QNX, a maker of operating systems for mobile devices.
The tablet sports a 1GHz dual-core processor, two high-resolution cameras -- one in front and one in back -- and micro-HDMI output. It's priced at $500 for a version with 16G bytes of storage, $600 for a 32G-byte version, and $700 for 64G-byte model.
On the software side, many early reviewers have cited a litany of shortcomings, the most egregious of which may be a lack of a built-in e-mail program -- the main feature that draws professionals to the company's iconic BlackBerry smartphone.
To do e-mail on the device, users have to establish a WiFi connection to the Internet and use a browser-based application like Gmail, or establish a Bluetooth link to a BlackBerry via a feature called Bridge. Via the Bridge function, users have access to all their BlackBerry apps.
The device weighs just under a pound and has a 7-inch screen, roughly half the area of an iPad screen. That, however, is one of the main selling points for Co-CEO Mike Lazaridis.
"I just love its form factor," Lazaridis said on the sidelines of the event. "It's so light I can put it in my pocket .... it's just the right size for me."
In a nod to the QNX-based operating system, Lazaridis emphasized the touch-screen interface's ability to allow users to smoothly move from one open app to another. "The way this thing multitasks, it's like one step ahead -- I can do things as fast as I can think," Lazaridis said.