Mobility News

5 Burning Questions For RIM's PlayBook Tablet

Chad Berndtson

There's still so much to know about PlayBook -- questions on both specs and strategy linger -- but RIM's definitely gotten the tech world's attention.

The PlayBook, officially unveiled Monday, is a 7-inch, 1024 x 600 display tablet with a snazzy dual-core, 1 Ghz ARM Cortex-A9 processor, meaning it outguns the iPad, Samsung's Galaxy Tab and other competitors. It also offers a new OS thanks to QNX, the developer that RIM bought earlier this year. According to RIM, the QNX platform gives developers a toolbox for PlayBook that includes Adobe Air, Flash, Java and a host of other options.

PlayBook looks impressive. For RIM, however, now is not the time to be ambiguous: it'll need to set clear expectations so that the ever-more-fickle consumer base for mobile devices knows what it's getting. Here's a look at what RIM will have to address if it wants PlayBook to be a tablet blockbuster:

1. What about price and availability?: RIM didn't confirm pricing, sales channels or exact availability for the PlayBook, and that's a lot of potential deal-breakers. Price points are one thing -- will it be comparable to, or more, or less than the iPad for example? -- and missing the U.S. holiday shopping season entirely is definitely another, with RIM saying the PlayBook will be available for consumer markets early next year. Maybe it's all part of RIM's strategy, but with rival tablets arriving fast and furiously, it runs the risk of being lost in the shuffle.

2. You can get with this, or you can get with that?: Is the PlayBook intended as a companion device for the BlackBerry, meaning users should own both? Does RIM really want to force that on people? It's hard to say from the outset whether PlayBook is supposed to compliment a user's existing BlackBerry technology. But seeing as the PlayBook can use cellular networks only if it syncs with a BlackBerry -- it has Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity, but will not ship with a 3G cellular radio inside -- that raises a few questions about its flexibility, at least until 3G and 4G PlayBooks ship in the second half of 2011.

3. Love for developers, but how much?: RIM's made no bones about the fact that it wants PlayBook to be an app developer's paradise, and, with QNX and its new WebWorks "super app" development suite, it appears willing to give app developers the tools they want. Also new this week from RIM is a Blackberry advertising service that gives developers access to ads that can be integrated into applications using a single line of code, kicking back 60 percent of generated ad revenue for the developers themselves. RIM has a long way to go to create the kind of application juggernaut Apple has, but there appears to be plenty to build on.

4. Gamers wanted?: It wasn't lost on PlayBook observers that because of the pumped-up processing power and arms-wide-open embrace of developers, RIM's PlayBook could find niche appeal with mobile gamers. So wouldn't it behoove RIM to come forth with a clear-cut strategy on how to attract those gamers?

5. Will the channel get a taste?: RIM has a major advantage over Apple in that its BlackBerry is a staple of the business enterprise and the company itself has reach into the channel. RIM hasn't been too forthcoming on how its PlayBook will be sold -- which retailers? which resellers or integrators? -- but to ignore its base of VARs is to ignore one of its biggest trump cards over Apple, and also deny it a leg up on Android, which is just starting to appear on business-ready tablets.

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