RIM unveils PlayBook tablet to compete with iPad

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Research In Motion unveiled a tablet computer on Monday that it hopes will leapfrog Apple’s iPad with its potential for social networking, media publishing and corporate uses.

Mike Lazaridis, president and co-chief executive officer of Research in Motion, holds the new Blackberry PlayBook with a screen projection of the new device as he speaks at the RIM Blackberry developers conference in San Francisco, California September 27, 2010. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith

The tablet, named BlackBerry PlayBook, has a seven-inch screen and dual facing cameras. It has WiFi and Bluetooth but needs to link with a BlackBerry smartphone to access a cellular network.

Shares of RIM spiked 2 percent before paring gains slightly in after-hours trade following the announcement, made at the company’s annual developers’ conference in San Francisco.

The Waterloo, Ontario-based company has recently struggled to impress investors and analysts, who mostly shrugged off the August launch of its Torch smartphone and fret about eroding support among its core corporate clientele.

“PlayBook delivers a no-compromises web experience,” co-Chief Executive Mike Lazaridis told the developers, who responded with intermittent applause.

RIM expects to ship the device to corporate customers and developers in October and to consumers early in 2011, meaning it misses the consumer holiday buying season.

While RIM is pitching the PlayBook as the evolution of its corporate heritage, its hopes the powerful processor and media offerings lure consumers too.

“They talk enterprise but this will get bought by individuals and used for business,” IDC analyst Stephen Drake said from the floor of the presentation.

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The market for tablets -- touchscreen devices larger than a smartphone and smaller than a laptop -- has gotten more congested since Apple launched its iPad in April, with Samsung and Dell showing off releases in the past two months and others expected from Hewlett-Packard and Toshiba.

While the market’s direction is relatively uncharted, most analysts agree success will be measured by which applications each tablet can run.

“RIM has a strong story to tell to developers to say - look, however you want to make things for this thing, we’re giving you tools and a platform that will allow you to do that,” said Forrester Research principal analyst Charles Golvin.

RIM also launched its own mobile advertising network, following Apple’s entry into that market earlier this year. Google’s AdMob also has a major presence in mobile advertising.

RIM said developers will receive 60 percent of the advertising revenue, and RIM will provide analytics tools for targeting the ads effectively.

PlayBook can mirror a BlackBerry phone, giving users a bigger screen to view media and edit documents, and wipes all corporate data once the link between the two devices is broken.

The absence of a direct link to the cellular network means network carriers may be less eager to subsidize the device or promote it heavily. But corporate IT departments will likely cheer about its ability to mirror a company-issued BlackBerry without retaining that data when that link is broken.

“It’s compelling, certainly to an IT guy, if they can look at this tablet and say it’s really nothing we have to lock down,” said Kevin Burden from ABI Research. “An IT manager can look at this tablet and say we don’t even need to put this on our asset-tracking list.”

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The PlayBook weighs 400 grams (14 ounces). It will launch with a dual-core, one gigahertz processor running a QNX kernel and operating system that can incorporate BlackBerry OS 6, which RIM introduced in its Torch smartphone in August.

The QNX operating system uses industry standard APIs, or application programing interfaces, meaning developers should have little difficulty in making their games, software and other applications work on the device.

“All the code that is out there, and there is a huge source base out there, (it) is completely portable to QNX,” said Dan Dodge, who co-founded QNX and led the company until RIM acquired it less than a year ago.

RIM has yet to set an exact price for the PlayBook but says it will fall in the lower range of prices for consumer tablets already in the suddenly congested market.

Asked if later versions will connect to advanced 4G networks now under development, RIM co-Chief Executive Jim Balsillie told Reuters: “That’s not a question we’re answering today, but it’s not a hard one to guess at.”

Reporting by Gabriel Madway in San Fransisco and Alastair Sharp in Toronto; Editing by Frank McGurty