Yes, there’s yet another tablet on the horizon. But unlike Apple’s iPad and others of its ilk, which are primarily meant for consumers and casual users, the BlackBerry PlayBook takes careful but confident aim at BlackBerry’s corporate heartland.
“This is the world's first professional tablet” trumpets Mike Lazaridis, President and Co-CEO at BlackBerry parent company Research In Motion. “RIM set out to engineer the best professional-grade tablet in the industry with cutting-edge hardware features and one of the world’s most robust and flexible operating systems.”
Lazaridis believes the PlayBook tablet will duplicate the success of the BlackBerry smartphones in becoming an “enterprise standard”, although the PlayBook also contains a raft of consumer applications suited to the living room rather than the conference room.
Crucial to both roles is the PlayBook’s support for standards such as Adobe Flash and HTML5, full 1080p HD video, DivX video plus HDMI and USB ports, albeit in space-saving ‘micro’ connector formats.
The PlayBook also features dual front- and rear-facing cameras to support video conferencing and allows full multi-tasking between programs. “You’re going to be able to get the full Web experience in the palm of your hand”, Lazaridis says of the PlayBook, which packs an 18 cm (7 inch) multitouch screen into a 400 gram chassis under 10mm thin.
However, the first iteration of PlayBook will be more of a BlackBerry companion than a stand-alone device. Future releases of the tablet will sport an inbuilt 3G modem but the debut device – which will launch in North America early next year and being international rollout from April 2011 – will rely on a Bluetooth connection to a BlackBerry smartphone for 3G access.
This is crucial to the PlayBook’s enterprise cred, as it gives the PlayBook out-of-the-box compatibility with the BlackBerry Enterprise Server to work with BlackBerry apps using the tablet’s larger touchscreen. “If you own a PlayBook and a BlackBerry it’s a 1 + 1 = 3 scenario” Lazaridis enthuses.
Van Baker, Gartner analyst described RIM’s positioning of the PlayBook as “the iPad for the suits.”
“RIM has a bit of a split personality: they struggle with whether they are a consumer or enterprise device company” Baker explains. “Enterprise is their bread and butter, but consumer is the big market right now.”
The device’s very name echoes some of that duality. A ‘playbook’ is a collection of tactical set-pieces commonly used in North American sports, especially the stop-start games of basketball and gridiron football.
However, the double capitalisation of the word PlayBook also underscores the tablet’s role outside the office. RIM happily talks up the PlayBook’s potential for gaming, with the dual-core 1GHz processor and support for Open GL paving the way for graphics-intensive 2D and 3D applications including games.
“What this tablet can do in gaming is going to be off the scale, this thing is going to really scream” says Dan Dodge, who created the lightweight QNX operating system acquired by RIM in April this year and which was used to create RIM’s all-new BlackBerry Tablet OS.
RIM is expected to offer the PlayBook in models with 16GB and 32GB of memory, but pricing has not yet been released.
Visit our photo gallery for more pics of the BlackBerry PlayBook.