Leaked BlackBerry road map reveals two phablets, widescreen tablet in coming year

Roadmap follows industry pattern of many device form factors

BlackBerry plans to release a larger tablet and two phone-tablet combos, or phablets, over the next year, according to a leaked road map presentation slide.

The three devices will run the BlackBerry 10 mobile operating system, which powers the Z10 smartphone and the upcoming Q10, which features a physical qwerty keyboard, according to the slide, which first appeared over the weekend on Twitter as @BB10Leaks.

BlackBerry officials didn't comment on the road map. However, in comments to analysts last Thursday, CEO Thorstein Heins said repeatedly that the company will introduce more BlackBerry 10 devices this year, though he didn't indicate what form factors the products would feature.

The three new devices shown in the slide include a BlackBerry 10 tablet with a widescreen aspect ratio, as well as a "U10" phone-tablet, which some call a phablet, and an "R10" phablet with a physical qwerty keyboard.

The slide indicates that the B10 tablet will ship in the third or fourth quarter, while the two phablets will be released later, with the U10 shipping at the end of the year and the R10 in spring of 2014.

There are no specifications on the slide, but the devices appear to be shown roughly in proportion to one another, with the phablets appearing to be wider than the existing Z10 and Q10 smartphones.

BlackBerry already has a 7-in. tablet called the PlayBook that is more square in shape than the widescreen look of the B10 in the slide. Some analysts and bloggers said it's possible that BlackBerry is developing a competitor to the various 9-to-11-in. tablets already on the market, including many Android tablets, as well as the 9.7-in. iPad.

"BlackBerry wants to be a full-line competitor, particularly for business users, so they have to have a full line of products to compete head-on with Apple and Android, primarily Samsung," said Jack Gold, an analyst at J.Gold Associates. "I would expect any viable competitor to establish a full line of products touching on all the various preferences of the marketplace, which includes smartphones, phablets and tablets."

Gold couldn't confirm whether any of the details in the leaked slide were accurate, but he noted that it doesn't appear to include the mid-priced smartphones that Heins and other executives have hinted that BlackBerry may launch over the next few quarters.

The PlayBook tablet first went on sale in April 2011, running on what BlackBerry then called the BlackBerry Tablet OS, based on QNX. BlackBerry later said it would merge that tablet operating system into BlackBerry 10. The company also released a major update to the PlayBook tablet operating system in February 2012.

The first release of the PlayBook was criticized for not having native email.

Analysts are not sure that BlackBerry can keep up with production demand for so many new devices that depend on a relatively constrained supply chain for displays and other components. But to boost its global smartphone market share, currently at less than 10%, BlackBerry will need a product lineup with a variety of options.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen, or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

See more by Matt Hamblen on Computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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