BlackBerry maker RIM unveils ‘PlayBook’ tablet computer

BlackBerry maker Research in Motion is taking on iPad in the table computer game with a “PlayBook” aimed to capitalize on its strength — the trust of business users keen on secure communications.

“It is the world’s first professional tablet,” RIM president and co-chief executive Mike Lazaridis said as he showed off the device in San Francisco.

The PlayBook is one of a number of tablet computers slated for release in a bid to challenge Apple’s popular iPad and is the first foray outside the mobile phone realm for the Waterloo, Ontario-based RIM.

“They are kind of positioning it as the iPad for the suits,” Gartner analyst Van Baker said of the PlayBook announcement.

The PlayBook has a seven-inch (17.8-centimeter) touchscreen, smaller than the 9.7 inches of Apple’s iPad, and also plays Adobe Flash video software, which is banned from the Apple device.

“You are going to be able to get the full Web experience,” Lazaridis said, stressing its integration with RIM’s BlackBerry smartphone, a favorite among many professionals.

BlackBerry smartphone users can pair their handset with the PlayBook using a Bluetooth connection to view their email, calendar, documents or other content.

The PlayBook also features front- and rear-facing cameras to support video conferencing and allows multi-tasking between programs.

RIM expects to begin selling PlayBooks in the United States in early 2011 and rolling the tablets out to other countries by the middle of the year.

Lazaridis did not reveal how much RIM plans to charge for the PlayBook.

“RIM set out to engineer the best professional-grade tablet in the industry with cutting-edge hardware features and one of the world’s most robust and flexible operating systems,” Lazaridis said.

Positioning PlayBook as a business person’s tablet could stymie its popularity in the sizzling consumer market dominated by iPad, according to Baker.

“RIM has a bit of a split personality; they struggle with whether they are a consumer or enterprise device company,” Baker said. “Enterprise is their bread and butter, but consumer is the big market right now.”

The fact PlayBook users can route data through BlackBerry smartphones instead of paying for separate telecom service should prove a selling point in the business and personal markets.

PlayBook tablets also promise help RIM challenge the increasing use of iPads in workplaces.

RIM said that in the coming weeks it would release a software kit so third-party developers can begin tailoring applications, or “apps,” for PlayBook.

PlayBook debuted at BlackBerry DEVCON, a combined boot camp and pep rally for outside developers crafting programs for the Canadian firm’s devices.

RIM introduced tools that make it easier to build applications for BlackBerry handsets and make money with ads or “in-app” purchases.

RIM is also launching a free analytics service that provides applications makers with feedback regarding how, when and where BlackBerry owners are using programs.

“We are enabling developers to better monetize their services and drive deeper engagement to create richer, more interesting social apps for BlackBerry,” said Alan Brenner, senior vice president of the BlackBerry platform.

Approximately 35 million people use the BlackBerry “App World” shop, with 1.5 million programs downloaded daily, according to RIM vice president of global alliances and developer relationships Tyler Lessard.

RIM opened the door to more “social” applications that tap into phone features such as chat, instant messaging, and groups, according to Lessard.

Hip, fun or functional programs made by third-party developers have become vital to the popularity of smartphones and tablet computers.

Apple’s App Store features more than 250,000 mini-programs for the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch.

Blackberry’s App World has about 11,000 applications, but programs are also sold at other websites by developers.

Google has been aggressively expanding Android Marketplace, which boasts more than 80,000 apps for smartphones running on the California Internet titan’s Android mobile operating system.