RIM Tries Tablet Market Again, Launches New 4G PlayBook


Research In Motion unveiled Thursday a new 4G-ready model of its BlackBerry PlayBook, a move that could potentially boost sales of the struggling tablet and make it a more serious contender to Apple’s iPad.

RIM said the new 4G LTE version of its PlayBook delivers a significant jump in performance compared to prior-generation PlayBook models, enabling users to browse the web, send emails, and download multimedia and other content more quickly and from a broader range of locations.

"We’re excited to bring customers the first BlackBerry PlayBook tablet with support for 4G LTE networks," said David J. Smith, executive vice president of RIM’s Mobile Computing segment, in a statement.

[Related: RIM Denies Giving Indian Government Access To BlackBerry Emails]

The 4G BlackBerry PlayBook will come with 32 GB of storage and will be available in Canada on August 9. RIM said it will roll out the new device in the U.S., Europe, South Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean over the coming months, but it did not specify a price.

Earlier versions of RIM’s PlayBook also came in 16-GB and 64-GB versions, but the 16-GB version was officially discontinued in June in light of sluggish demand.

Support for 4G LTE networks could make the PlayBook a more serious competitor to tablets like the iPad or Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 10.1, a feat it has struggled to accomplish since its debut in 2010. RIM reported in its first-quarter earnings statement in June that it sold approximately 260,000 PlayBooks during the three-month span. This number was slightly more than half the 500,000 PlayBooks it sold during the previous quarter.

Apple, by comparison, said last month it sold 17 million iPads during its fiscal third quarter.

Robby Hill, owner of HillSouth, a Florence, S.C.-based RIM solution provider, said much of the 4G PlayBook’s success rides on its price tag and whether the market ultimately decides to embrace a primarily business-focused tablet.

"The PlayBook 4G success will come down to price point and if the consumers see the value of buying a tablet that is being marketed for business users and lacks the traditional app ecosystem that people have come to expect from the two dominant players in the market," Hill said in an emailed statement to CRN.

Hill did note, however, that the lukewarm reaction consumers showed toward earlier versions of the PlayBook may carry over into the new 4G model.

"The PlayBook 4G is suffering from an identity crisis and it hasn’t even been launched yet," he said. "If a user wants speed, 4G connectivity, and Flash support then the PlayBook may be a wild success -- but I am concerned that the memories of the original launch and failure may temper expectations during this go."

The new 4G tablet sports a 7-inch display, the same screen size as its predecessors, along with front- and rear-facing cameras, HDMI output and stereo speakers.

BlackBerry PlayBook OS 2.0, the next-generation tablet operating system launched by RIM in February, comes natively with the 4G PlayBook. The new OS was welcomed with open arms by current users, as it armed the PlayBook with a number of new features, most notably built-in email support, that were absent from the first-generation devices.

PUBLISHED AUG. 2, 2012