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BlackBerry maker’s tablet targets iPad

CORPORATE PREVALENCE Research in Motion’s co-chief executive, Jim Balsillie, said the PlayBook is tailored to the needs of its business clients. CORPORATE PREVALENCE
Research in Motion’s co-chief executive, Jim Balsillie, said the PlayBook is tailored to the needs of its business clients.
By Andrew Vanacore
Associated Press / September 28, 2010

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NEW YORK — The company that gave us the BlackBerry — still the dominant phone in corporate circles — thinks its business customers will have room in their briefcases for at least one more device: the PlayBook.

Research in Motion Ltd. showed off the tablet for the first time yesterday and is set to launch it early 2011, with an expanded international rollout later in the year. With it, RIM is betting on a smaller, lighter device than Apple Inc.’s iPad, which kicked-started the tablet market when it launched in April.

The PlayBook will have a 7-inch screen and will weigh slightly less than a pound. And unlike the 9.7-inch iPad, it will have two cameras, front and back. RIM said tablet’s price would be in the same range as the iPad, which starts at $499.

The PlayBook will be able to act as a second, larger screen for a BlackBerry phone, through a secure short-range wireless link. When the connection is severed — perhaps because the user walks away with the phone — no sensitive data like company e-mails are left on the tablet. Outside of Wi-Fi range, it will be able to pick up cellular service to access the Web by linking to a BlackBerry.

But the tablet will also work as a standalone device. RIM’s co-chief executive, Jim Balsillie, said its goal is to present the full Web experience of a computer, including the ability to display Flash, Adobe Systems Inc.’s format for video and interactive material on the Web. That means the tablet will be less dependent on third-party applications, Balsillie said.

“I don’t need to download a YouTube app if I’ve got YouTube on the Web,’’ said Balsillie, who leads the company along with co-CEO Mike Lazaridis.

Apple’s chief executive, Steve Jobs, has resisted allowing Flash on any of the company’s mobile gadgets, arguing the software has too many bugs and drains battery life.

“Much of the market has been defined in terms of how you fit the Web to mobility,’’ Balsillie said. “What we’re launching is really the first mobile product that is designed to give full Web fidelity.’’

In part, the PlayBook is a move by RIM to protect its position as the top provider of mobile devices for the business set. Balsillie says he has had briefings with corporate chief information officers and “this is hands-down, slam-dunk what they’re looking for.’’

Analysts agree that RIM’s close relationship with its corporate clients could help the company establish a comfortable niche in the tablet market despite Apple’s early lead.

“We do think that RIM has a play with enterprise customers because it has established relationships with so many businesses, and its technology is so deeply integrated with their IT departments,’’ said Susan Kevorkian, an IDC analyst. IDC predicts that the corporate market for tablets will grow as a portion of overall sales over the next few years.