On Monday Research In Motion (RIM) CEO Mike Lazaridis unveiled a BlackBerry tablet device called the BlackBerry PlayBook at the 2010 BlackBerry Developer Conference. So what exactly is the PlayBook, you ask? Let’s start with the hardware specifications. The 7-inch LCD display (1024 x 600, WSVGA) dominates the device in a form factor we’ve all come to know and love in the Apple iPad. It’s a capacitive touch screen with full multitouch and gesture support. For a modern tablet, this thing is a beast. It packs a Cortex A9-based 1GHz dual-core processor and 1GB of RAM. Ports around the edges include microHDMI, microUSB, and charging contacts. 802.11 a/b/g/n WiFi and Bluetooth 2.1+EDR support is there as well. Various video (1080p HD Video, H.264, MPEG, DivX, WMV) and audio (MP3, AAC, WMA) playback formats are supported, as is HDMI video output. There are two HD webcams, a 3MP cam on the front and a 5MP cam at the rear; the back-facing cam supports 1080p HD video recording. The PlayBook measures at 5.1″x7.6″x0.4″ and weighs less than one pound, making it smaller and lighter than the iPad. 3G & 4G models will be issued, and although capacity was not formally announced, 16GB & 32GB units were on display.
Next let’s talk software. No, the PlayBook does not run the recently announced BlackBerry 6 operating system. Instead it runs BlackBerry Tablet OS, an operating system built with a touch-based interface in mind. It’s built upon the QNX Neutrino microkernel architecture. QNX is a software company RIM bought earlier this year, and they are respected in the industry for their reliable, secure, and robust operating system architectures known for powering planes, trains, automobiles, medical equipment, and large core Internet routers. In other words, RIM is messing around with Tablet OS. So what’s RIM pushing with their new OS? The combination of the 1GHz dual-core processor software-based symmetric multiprocessing promises “true multitasking” and a highly responsive, fluid user experience. You can look forward to “uncompromised web browsing” thanks to support from Adobe Flash Player 10.1, Adobe Mobile AIR, and HTML5 in the mobile WebKit browser. The PlayBook also touts BlackBerry integration and enterprise-ready support. This is where RIM is really looking to stand out in the competition. If you have a BlackBerry smartphone you can pair it to your PlayBook over a Bluetooth connection to view “email, BBM, calendar, tasks, documents and other content” on the larger tablet display, no syncing required. The PlayBook comes BlackBerry Enterprise Server-ready and compatible out-of-the-box, so this’ll surely make the suits a happy bunch.
Lastly it’s time to bring up developer and app support. The PlayBook will have access to the BlackBerry App World. RIM claims that the Tablet OS is “built for developers” and wants the app-makers to start pumping out consumer and business-friendly apps ASAP. Apple has one leg up on the competition due to the uber-success of the App Store and all its contents and RIM is ready and willing to heat up the competition. “The [Tablet] OS is fully POSIX compliant enabling easy portability of C-based code, supports Open GL for 2D and 3D graphics intensive applications like gaming, and will run applications built in Adobe Mobile AIR as well as the new BlackBerry WebWorks app platform.” In addition to announced the PlayBook, RIM pleased developers in attendance with the announced of the WebWorks platform and other dev tools. In short, WebWorks will allow devs to quickly and efficiently write code for a BlackBerry app that’s tightly integrated with BB 6 and Tablet OS functionality. A new Advertising Service allows “simple” and “rich media” ads to be easily transposed into an app. The Payment Service SDK will allow for in-app purchases for third-party devs over over credit card, PayPal, and carrier billing. Last, RIM is finally opening up BMM to the devs with the BlackBerry Messenger Social Platform. App devs will have the ability to use BBM to relay messages, files, user profiles, and invitations to end users.
Besides letting loose details about the hardware specifications, glossing over the software capabilities, and getting developers excited to produce content for a new platform, RIM unfortunately did not give an in-depth preview of the the Tablet OS, so it’s hard to say how simple or intuitive the device actually runs. Definitely peek after the break to watch a preview video that hints at a CoverFlow/WebOS hybrid UI. It’s interesting to look at how RIM wants to market the PlayBook. They are calling it a “professional-grade” tablet that is “perfect for either large organizations or an “army of one.”” They are certainly distancing themselves from King iPad by touting the Flash/ HTML5 Webkit browser and true multitasking from the start. I get it–business suits love their BlackBerrys for the phenomenal enterprise support and the PlayBook would make a sensible companion. Thing is, I’m not so sure if BlackBerry can bank on the “professional” demographic to gain much market (and more importantly) mind share with the PlayBook. (What? Is Apple’s approach too fun and playful for serious buyers? I think not.) Two things need to happen for the PlayBook to become a breakout hit. The device needs to be competitively priced (pricing has yet to be disclosed) and the App World needs a big backing from developers. The latter requirement is essential; super resourceful apps make all devices (cell phones, tablets, etc.) enticing for consumers and business professionals alike. RIM has to prove the worthiness of the PlayBook, devs need to jump onboard the platform, and consumers will respond when it comes time to buy. The PlayBook has tons of potential and people are excited; Twitter was beeming with positive feedback after the announcement was made. If RIM can properly execute on this, a worthy competitor to the iPad might finally arrive. The PlayBook is expected to release in “early 2011” in the US; international rollouts will begin in Q2 2011.