RIM Launches PlayBook Tablet

BlackBerry maker Research in Motion (RIM) launched its PlayBook tablet-based computing device on Tuesday, kicking off the latest in what is expected to be a long string of attempts to take on market-leader Apple's dominant iPad. Despite RIM's enterprise and security backgrounds, the PlayBook is a versatile device, with both consumer- and business-oriented features.

The PlayBook looks passingly similar to the iPad, but some of the differences are key. RIM's entry is smaller and lighter than the iPad, and sports a 7" widescreen display (1024 x 600). It weighs less than a pound.

Initial reviews of the PlayBook have been lukewarm, however. Some of the key complaints are understandable: It doesn't provide on-device email or calendar apps (yet)—those, curiously, require a separate, tethered (or "bridged") BlackBerry device—and as a new platform, the PlayBook doesn't (yet) have a rich ecosystem of third-party apps.

Because of the hypetastic splash Apple always makes with its own product launches, many news outlets reported on the lack of lines on Tuesday morning for the PlayBook. The point, I suppose, was to cast the device as some kind of failure. But this is both shortsighted and cheap: The customers that RIM is going after don't line up in front of retail stores like lemmings.

And analysts do expect RIM to sell 2 to 4 million PlayBooks during 2011. That's a far cry from the expected 35 to 40 million iPads that Apple is likely to sell, of course, but it's enough to make it a credible entry, especially in the enterprise market. The key, of course, is for RIM to fill in the initial missing functional gaps and quickly build out the PlayBook's ecosystem. This is a problem Microsoft failed to solve during Windows Phone's first year on the market, so RIM at least has an example of what not to do.

And RIM will have some other challengers to deal with soon. In addition to a horde of Android-based tablets, HP will launch its own webOS-based tablet entry, the Palm TouchPad, sometime this summer. And Microsoft, as ever, is a dark horse in this race, though it's not expected to field a credible challenger until Windows 8 launches next year.

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