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Photos: BlackBerry PlayBook - RIM unveils first tablet

Meet PlayBook: The 'enterprise-ready' iPad killer?
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By Natasha Lomas on
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Meet PlayBook: The 'enterprise-ready' iPad killer?

BlackBerry-maker RIM ended months of tablet-based speculation last night at its DevCon developer conference in San Francisco by taking the wraps off the forthcoming BlackBerry PlayBook, pictured above.

The device - the smartphone maker's first foray into the larger, tablet form-factor - is more than just a big BlackBerry, however, as it will run a whole new operating system too, known as the BlackBerry Tablet OS. The new OS, which has a Neutrino-based microkernel architecture, was developed by QNX, a company RIM acquired earlier this year.

The PlayBook is 130mm x 193mm x 10mm, weighs around 400g and is described by RIM as "ultra thin and portable". There's a seven-inch LCD, 1024 x 600, WSVGA, capacitive touchscreen with multi-touch and gesture support; 1GHz dual-core processor; 1GB RAM; 802.11 a/b/g/n wi-fi and Bluetooth 2.1 but no cellular connectivity. It does have cameras though, two of them, including a front-facing camera for videoconferencing.

In a pitch aimed at wooing developers away from rival mobile platforms such as Apple's iOS and Google's Android OS, RIM said the BlackBerry Tablet OS is fully Posix compliant, to facilitate easy porting of C-based code; supports symmetric multitasking; has Common Criteria EAL 4+ security; supports Open GL for 2D and 3D graphics-intensive applications such as gaming; and will run applications built in Adobe Mobile AIR. PlayBook will also support Flash Player 10.1.

Last night RIM also announced BlackBerry WebWorks at DevCon - a web application platform that enables HTML5 developers to create integrated web apps for RIM's devices, in addition to using CSS and JavaScript.

RIM said it has released the WebWorks framework to the open source community - another carrot for developers, allowing them to access and contribute to the web application platform and tooling components.

The BlackBerry Tablet OS SDK is planned for release in the coming weeks, it added.

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The PlayBook is pictured above running the BlackBerry Messenger IM software.

Despite its playful name, Mike Lazaridis, president and co-CEO of RIM described the tablet as a "professional-grade" device, which is compatible out-of-the-box with BlackBerry Enterprise Server.

BlackBerry smartphone content can be viewed on the tablet when connected over Bluetooth but the contents remains stored on the smartphone - being only temporarily cached on the tablet. RIM argues this approach means IT departments can deploy the PlayBook to employees without any security and manageability concerns that might arise from corporate data being stored on another device.

But Ovum analyst Tim Renowden warned this approach could limit PlayBook's appeal. "Leveraging the BlackBerry's success to upsell customers into a new form factor is a good strategy but if the PlayBook relies too heavily on the BlackBerry for connectivity and functionality it risks limiting its potential market to hardcore BlackBerry users."

"RIM will leverage its extensive reach into the enterprise market through strong integration with BlackBerry smartphones and the BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) architecture but strong multimedia capabilities are also essential to compete with the iPad and Android tablets," he continued in a statement. "RIM is not the only company with grand plans for enterprise tablets: both Cisco and Avaya have already announced enterprise-focused tablets based on Android."

"RIM executives believe that there is a huge opportunity for mobile enterprise devices that can deliver enhanced mobility without compromising on usability or compatibility with key business applications, ultimately as a substitute for corporate notebook PCs," added Renowden. "Whether the PlayBook is that device remains to be seen."

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Here's the PlayBook's multimedia homepage. The device supports video playback at 1080p, HD Video, H.264, MPEG, DivX and WMV. It has HDMI video output and supports audio playback via MP3, AAC and WMA.

While the device relies on wi-fi and Bluetooth for connectivity, RIM said it also intends to offer 3G and 4G PlayBooks in future.

RIM said the PlayBook will be available in the US in early 2011, with rollouts "in other international markets" beginning in Q2 2011.

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