Research in Motion Debuts BlackBerry PlayBook

by Anthony John Agnello | September 28, 2010 2:36 pm

Research in Motion (NASDAQ: RIMM[1]) finally revealed its new tablet computer to the world last weekend. At the BlackBerry Developer Conference in San Francisco, RIM debuted the BlackBerry PlayBook, a slim tablet device as aesthetically streamlined as its chief competitor, Apple’s (NASDAQ: AAPL[2]) iPad. CEO Mike Lazaridis called the PlayBook the world’s “first professional tablet,” hoping to recapture the lucrative enterprise market that has been the BlackBerry product line’s chief audience for the past decade.

The PlayBook’s specifications are in line with those reported to be included the BlackPad, the rumored name of Research in Motion’s tablet prior to PlayBook’s announcment this weekend. The tablet features a multitouch 7-inch screen with a 1024 x 600 pixel resolution, giving it a slightly lower resolution than Apple’s iPad but a form factor that is also 2.7-inches smaller. The PlayBook also sports some real processing power with an ARM Holdings (NASDAQ: ARMH[3]) Cortex A9-based, dual-core 1GHz CPU and 1GB of RAM making it, according to Research in Motion, “the fastest tablet ever.” Wireless communications supported include WiFi 802.11a/b/g protocols as well as Bluetooth 2.1. The tablet will be capable of outputting 1080p video and has both a 5 megapixel rear camera in addition to a 3 megapixel camera on its face, providing video conferencing support for business users and video chat not dissimilar to Apple’s popular FaceTime application. While Resarch in Motion didn’t confirm the PlayBook’s onboard storage memory, models on the BlackBerry Developer Conference show floor were labeled 16GB and 32

Research in Motion also confirmed the rumor that its new tablet would not support the company’s recently released BlackBerry 6 operating system, opting instead to utilize a brand new operating system developed by recent acquisition QNX. The RIM and QNX co-developed operating system, appropriately named BlackBerry Tablet OS, offers what Lazaridis called “an amplified view of what’s already on your BlackBerry.” The tablet’s OS allows users to automatically sync data between the PlayBook and their BlackBerry phone via Bluetooth. Further details on syncing weren’t given, but it appears that RIM is looking to emphasize the interchangeability of the PlayBook and BlackBerry smart phones.

The PlayBook is inarguably the most attractive device Research in Motion has designed in some time, showing that they’ve learned from Apple’s emphasis on style in addition to functionality. Given that the BlackBerry Tablet OS is still very much an unknown quantity, it’s hard to say whether or not users will respond to it in the same way they have competing mobile platform like Apple’s iOS and Google’s (NASDAQ: GOOG[4]) Android OS, but RIM’s decision to utilize a platform created by QNX shows that the company is taking criticisms leveled against their internally developed operating systems to heart. On paper, it looks like Research in Motion is ready to compete in the burgeoning tablet market.

Shareholders are clearly concerned however. RIM shares have dropped over 4% since Sunday and are trading around $46 today. Plenty of details about the PlayBook were revealed at the conference, but RIM did not disclose a release date or price point for the machine, pointing only to a vague early 2011 rollout. That Research in Motion is willing to let Apple dominate the tablet market throughout the holiday season uncontested is a bad sign. Also disheartening is the mixed messaging surrounding the PlayBook. Lazardis described the machine as the first tablet for professional use but lauded the QNX OS’ abilities as a video game platform just moments later. Research in Motion needs to get this thing to market as soon as possible with a clear marketing message or shareholders can expect a steeper drop in share price than just 4%.

As of this writing, Anthony Agnello did not own a position in any of the stocks named here.

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