Can PlayBook tablet serve both consumers and workers?

Analysts say IT must let workers use RIM tablet's multimedia features and RIM must convince consumers to buy from business-centric company

The coming PlayBook tablet from Research in Motion (RIM) straddles the line between a consumer-centric and business-centric device, symbolic of the dilemma RIM faces serving both markets.

The question on the minds of industry analysts is whether RIM can pull off the consumer/business balancing act for the 7-in. PlayBook and give both audiences what they want.

BlackBerry PlayBook

RIM's BlackBerry PlayBook tablet, announced on Monday, has a 7-in. display, is 9.7mm thick, supports WebKit, HTML5 and Flash for browsing (with hardware-accelerated video), and will output 1080p video via HDMI.

Visual tour: RIM's BlackBerry PlayBook up-close

The PlayBook contains both the rich multimedia features normally sought by consumers (such as two high definition cameras, HDMI video output and a 1024 x 600 resolution screen) and the ability to connect to locked-down BlackBerry Enterprise Servers used in business settings to secure and manage BlackBerry smartphones.

"RIM's legacy is predominantly enterprise, but what's selling in devices these days is far and away consumer-centric," said Van Baker, a Gartner analyst, in an interview. "So one of the challenges RIM faces [with PlayBook] is how to manage both sides of that coin."

RIM picked the name PlayBook as an apparent sports reference to appeal to the masses. Yet at the same time, Co-CEO Mike Lazaridis introduced the tablet on Monday as "enterprise-ready," partly for its ability to function readily with the 250,000 BES servers now used by IT shops globally to manage and secure BlackBerry smartphones.

The PlayBook descriptions and product features aren't contradictory, but they point to how difficult it will be for RIM to position the device when it goes on sale in early 2011, analysts said.

Following the unveiling of the PlayBook, analysts said they aren't sure how fully enterprise-capable the device will be.

Some wondered, for example, whether the PlayBook will be able to create and edit documents independently without having to be paired via Bluetooth to a BlackBerry smartphone. (RIM's press release raised this concern for some because it said the PlayBook caches content from a Bluetooth-connected smartphone temporarily as if the PlayBook were only a larger viewer than the smaller smartphone display.)

Some also wondered whether a 7-in. screen with a virtual keyboard would be large enough for workers to easily use.

Baker said RIM is keenly aware of concerns that some BlackBerry users don't like their devices as much as iPhone or Android users like theirs. He said that is at least partly because many workers are required by their IT shops to use a BlackBerry.

The BlackBerry PlayBook, which RIM says is enterprise-ready, takes aim at Apple's iPad with full support of Flash as well as Java.

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