BlackBerry PlayBook tablet poses big challenge for RIM

New OS seen as key to tablet's ultimate success with consumers

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"It's pretty impressive," Stofega said of Playbook's operating system and overall design. "I've talked to game developers about it and they say, 'This is what we need.'"

Jack Gold, an analyst at J.Gold Associates, said that the key to the PlayBook's success will be the all-new operating system. Users want a tablet that is "sleek, modern and fast," Gold said.

Even with such assets, analysts wonder how well RIM can expand into the consumer market, including those who buy the device then take it to work.

"It's important that the PlayBook not be seen as just a BlackBerry peripheral attractive only to current BlackBerry users," Gold said. "It needs to be attractive to a wide audience and should even be a draw to get new users to come to BlackBerry. If RIM can do that, it will be very successful. Of course, they still are playing to their base of BlackBerry users, of which there are many, especially in enterprises. But expanding the user base will be a key measurement of success."

At the Thursday event, RIM officials emphasized the value of the PlayBook for multiple audiences: consumers, businesses and developers. Consumers will see "uncompromised" Web browsing on the device, with access to books, periodicals, movies, TV and music. Downloads of apps from RIM's App World will be supported, too, and regular software updates will keep the device current.

For businesses, the PlayBook can be securely tethered via Bluetooth to a BlackBerry handheld that's connected to a BlackBerry Enterprise Server for access to calendar information and other data. With that connection -- made possible by software in the PlayBook called BlackBerry Bridge -- the PlayBook can use the cellular network associated with a BlackBerry handheld, such as a Curve or Torch smartphone, Bidan said.

BlackBerry Bridge will use AES 256 encryption and will have BlackBerry Enterprise Service policy controls. Users will be able to view documents and edit them, and enterprises will be able to add other functions.

For developers, Bidan said the PlayBook browser will support Adobe Flash 10.1, HTML 5, Adobe AIR and BlackBerry Web Works. For the first time, RIM announced PlayBook will support BlackBerry Pushcast Software, Version 5.7, which has an API to allow a developer to take any media and adapt it for PlayBook, officials said.

BlackBerry Pushcast has been rebranded from Chalk Pushcast, which RIM acquired.

RIM has not said how much the PlayBook will weigh, though the target weight is 0.9 pounds. Its dimensions will be 5.1 by 7.6 inches and 0.4 inches thick. Its 7-in. LCD multitouch capacitive display is 1024 by 600 pixels.

The PlayBook comes with 1GB of system memory and three levels of storage: 16GB, 32GB or 64GB. Two cameras are included: a 3-megapixel forward-facing camera and a 5-megapixel rear-facing one. The 5300 mAh battery is expected to deliver eight hours of power and is not removable, Bidan said.

There are also three connection ports for microHDMI, microUSB and charging. In addition to Wi-Fi, the first version will also offer Bluetooth connectivity.

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 e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

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Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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