RIM Unveils “PlayBook” Tablet

| Product News

As expected, Research In Motion unveiled a new tablet Monday, a device the company is calling “PlayBook.” The device has a 7” display and is 10mm thick. It is powered by a dual-core 1GHz processor, and as expected is run on a new operating system called BlackBerry Tablet OS that was built on technology acquired when RIM purchased QNX Software Systems earlier this year.

RIM is positioning its new device where it currently dominates the smartphone industry, for Enterprise. For one thing it requires paring with a BlackBerry to access the Internet via a cellular signal, though it includes built-in WiFi. The company said that it intends to offer models equipped with 3G and 4G connectivity sometime in the unspecified future.

The company said it is compatible with BlackBerry Enterprise Server, and the company said that information on your BlackBerry can be displayed on the PlayBook. This feature is performed via a Buetooth connection, and the PlayBook doesn’t permanently store data from the host BlackBerry.

“With this approach to information security,” the company assured IT wonks, “IT departments can deploy the BlackBerry PlayBook to employees out-of-the-box without worrying about all the security and manageability issues that arise when corporate data is stored on yet another device.”

The company also stressed that BlackBerry Tablet OS is “An OS Built for Developers.” This contrasts with Apple’s approach of designing devices for the end user.

The device is smaller than an iPad in several ways. It features a 7” display, where the iPad has a 9.7” display. It’s also thinner, at 10mm compared to the iPad’s 13.4mm. That comes at a price, however, as the resolution of the display is smaller as well, 1024x600 compared to 1024x768 for the iPad. Being plastic and smaller, it weighs much less than an iPad, too, less than one pound, compared to 1.5lbs for the iPad.

It has dual HD cameras, one for the front and one on the back, though RIM didn’t specify the actual resolution of either camera. Flash fans, however, will be tickled that it supports Adobe Flash Player 10.1.x and Adobe Mobile AIR for all those great Flash apps.

Other features include a full GB of RAM, four times the 256MB in Apple’s iPad — though there is no mention of additional storage in the device, it was noted in the comments below that there is at least a model with 16GB being shown. It also has microHDMI and microUSB connectors.

RIM has not announced pricing, but said that it would be released in the first part of 2011. The company is working with “select” companies and developers now in preparing its SDK for release.

The video below is the first promo video released by RIM for the new device.

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Bryan Chaffin

I think RIM has done a lot right with this product, though the name is not one of those things. The company is clearly not going after consumers with this thing (no storage, HDMI out, smaller resolution display), but “PlayBook” doesn’t make sense for an Enterprise device.

That’s a small nit to pick, though.

I think CrackBerry heads will eat this thing up.  I also think it will grow the tablet market without taking sales away from iPad, at least not in this version.

Jeff Butts

Great article and observations, Bryan. With regards to the memory specs on the PlayBook…I imagine the device will need the extra memory for Flash support. I find it interesting, though, that no mention is made of the device’s battery life.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

The company also stressed that BlackBerry Tablet OS is ?An OS Built for Developers.? This contrasts with Apple?s approach of designing devices for the end user.

Hilarious Bryan. Touch?. Multi-touch?. A year from now, I suspect Apple will be a lot more developer friendly. Regulatory threat calmed them down quite a bit, but the new normal of developers not needing a giant intermediary to have relationships with customers will settle in quickly.

Correction on storage. It wasn’t specified. But you can safely conclude there will be some. That 1080p video isn’t going to be streamed over 802.11n. High speed Compact Flash would be add-on cost.


Great bring on the competition. It will drive Apple to make more and more better products, so either way we all win.

It also looks like a very nice well designed tablet, with a much better user interface custom designed for the task compared to the Samsung Tab.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

Here’s your storage… This one is a 16GB model.


A few specs not listed in the article?

3 MP high definition forward-facing camera
5 MP high definition rear-facing camera
Codec support for superior media playback, creation and video calling
1080p HD video; H.264, MPEG4, WMV HDMI video output
Micro USB, Micro HDMI, and DLNA media streaming
1 GHz dual-core processor
Symmetrical dual-core processing

I gotta say, this is better than I expected to hear from RIM. If I was invested in the Blackberry culture, it would be very compelling. I don’t mind the “PlayBook” name, much it’s better than the rumored “BlackPad”.

The lack of info on battery life is curious - dual core has to eat up battery, and the device’s size and weight indicate it’s battery isn’t anywhere near the iPad’s size.

Also missing is any indication of what the UI is like. The video is all conceptual imagery and never shows anybody interacting with the device.

Finally, it will be interesting to see how app development plays out. It should provide an interesting metric vs. Apple’s theory that supporting Flash would detract from the quality of apps since many developers would fall back to the least common denominator of multi-platform Flash applications rather than developing native apps.


The Blackberry site says the cameras are 3 and 5 MP, however, there is apparently no storage internally. It will feed from external sources. Either the Blackberry itself, or a computer via the HDMI and USB ports.

It looks nice, though I have to figure that after hearing an exec in Houston this weekend complain that his iPad didn’t do what he wanted it to and he’d recommend a laptop, I’m not sure that this will fit the bill RIM intends it to. But it may suit their customers just fine. Competition is good. We are the Star Trek Generation. All of these devices push the envelope and move us forward. (still waiting on transporters!!!!!!)


tagline: “time for work and time for play*”?

*time is limited by the battery wink

Bryan Chaffin

Thanks for the added details, folks, and thanks to Bosco for seeing that 16GB label. I updated the article to reflect that.


For those of us in the bifocal era, buying a “PlayBook” would mean also buying a Kindle.  No sale.  We want to take one tablet along with us camping and traveling, not two.  Also, an iPhone is handy for the quick stuff but that’s something we’re already carrying.  If you counted that, you’d be taking three things (iPhone, PlayBook & Kindle).  No Sale!

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

Finally, it will be interesting to see how app development plays out. It should provide an interesting metric vs. Apple?s theory that supporting Flash would detract from the quality of apps since many developers would fall back to the least common denominator of multi-platform Flash applications rather than developing native apps.

Yeah, I think if you have one and a half decades of cross-platform development experience, built a compiler in college in a weekend that was designed to take all quarter to implement, and have spent your career optimizing things nobody wanted to optimize themselves, you already know the answer to this question. Developers can make great apps with high level tools. They can make great apps with low level tools. They can also make crappy apps with both. Free of jerks pontificating about who sucks and who is blessed and cool, it comes down to development economics and sales models. Good developers who choose tools not officially endorsed by the platform vendor aren’t out to make crappy apps and indeed take a lot of pride in their products. That even includes Adobe and a good chunk of the over 1 million Flash developers.

When this becomes clear, I’ll be too way tired to say “told you so”.

Bryan Chaffin

Sparkie, I have zero doubt there will be a Kindle app for this device.

But remember, it’s being aimed squarely at the Enterprise space, where a Kindle app will be moot more often than not (though not entirely, to be sure!)


For the bifocal crowd, an app just isn’t the same… :-(


The company is clearly not going after consumers with this thing (no storage, HDMI out, smaller resolution display)

How does having HDMI out go against the consumer market?

Bryan Chaffin

The thought running through my head when I wrote that is that HDMI out is much more useful for giving presentations than it is to a consumer.

I suppose some consumers would be interested in going out to a TV at some point, but realistically I personally believe those numbers would be very, very small.

Note, too, that when I wrote that comment I still thought there was no storage on the device.


“An OS built for developers”

That says it all… you’ll have to be a programmer in order to be able to use the device! LOL… :D

Seriously though, it’s clear this thing is being built to try and protect their enterprise market share from the iPad, and it seems pretty obvious they’ve sacrificed usability to get it out the door in time.

They’re approaching this just like Monoposoft; throw money at it until something sticks regardless of how whatever sticks looks like or how it works.


Good developers who choose tools not officially endorsed by the platform vendor aren?t out to make crappy apps and indeed take a lot of pride in their products.

I know.

However, developers that choose to use cross-platform tools won’t be able to take advantage of a particular platform’s unique features. The resulting functionality gaps won’t please the platform’s users. Many would thus characterize the app as being crappy.

Go figure.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

@deasys: Yeah, thanks to the EU, we’re gonna find out what a load that explanation was too, right on the good old iOS platform.

The “ordinary people” and “non geeks” who use the iOS will not know the difference between a Flash-based app and an Objective-C one. They won’t know the subtleties of the HIGs or whether one app is using the equivalent of Cocoa while another uses the equivalent of Carbon. The Flash developers will have most of the heavy lifting done for them with none of the common developer bugs associated with Objective-C that lead to crashy apps, and one very knowledgeable entity to fix common problems once. They’ll be 20x as productive as Objective-C devs and the make-up of the App Store will come to reflect those economics.

Yep, you’re about to get Steve’s nightmare in spades. Good luck using your iPhones and iPads at all if he was right. Realistically though, you’ll all be enjoying a new bounty, just not on Steve’s control-freak terms.


Lots of very nice specs here…

To me: most notable is the dual 1GHz CPU and 1GB RAM; combined, they’ll give developers plenty of wiggle room for emphasizing quick and user-focused development versus sweat-the-details coding to a very small CPU/RAM budget such as the current iPad/iPodTouch/iPhone3GS. A “web/developer” orientation should make for even more rapid development.

No hard keyboard. Positioned as a larger, distinct screen from the tiny BlackBerry screen, but tethered to ti. I wonder who’ll be the first to say, “this is a consumption device, not a creation device.”

Seems BBerry has aimed this at corporate sites that already use their email-phones, as far as the data tether is concerned. I imagine that next year, many sites that haven’t already jumped to Android or iPad will give it a careful look. With security already locked down (thru purcha$e of a separate device, a possible cost issue), the only question will be the developer SDK, and that looks favorable, too.

The argument for independent purchase seems quite a bit weaker: what feature appeals to a user who doesn’t already have a (corporate) BlackBerry? (How many BBerrys are personal users that DON’T tie to a corporate site?) Music store? Easy linking to Shutterfly, Facebook, etc? Many corporations (e.g., where I work) want nothing to do with Teh Social and RIM will have a challenge making the device appeal to individuals versus corporate IT. Music? A music/video store? You mean IT is going to buy employees a gizmo to watch trash like Glee? Again, RIM has a fine needle to thread to appeal both to individuals who have the ultimate sign-off these days, plus the IT types who still want things as locked-down as possible.

So the unknowns seem to focus on the quality of the store, 3rd-party developer acceptance where many quality apps will require a dev to maintain a third (after iPhone & Android) or 4th or 5th (Win7Phone will have shipped, WebOS may rise again, Windows7, ???) native development effort.

While I am sure RIM has some great OS treats in store for us, Google will be out in full strength by next year, and Apple will be on version 2. I don’t see any slam-dunks here. I’m sure many devs will make a similar assessment: looks promising, but is it going to be worth the effort? For corporate IT shops that can dictate to their users what they’ll use, fine. Are there still many of those? Does RIM have a sufficient independent user package? That’ll be trickier.


The ?ordinary people? and ?non geeks? who use the iOS will not know the difference between a Flash-based app and an Objective-C one

That’s not true for Mac OS X—ordinary people do know the difference—and advantages—of native applications. Why do you think it will be different for iOS?


The question my business will ask is: what’s the ROI? You already have a functioning phone, a push email device, and an “emergency-use-only” quality web browser on the cell phone that we pay for. You already have a desktop and a laptop. How does this tablet make you a more valuable employee?

Maybe by the time they actually release this thing they’ll have a solid sales pitch for corporate, but I’m not seeing it at the moment.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

That?s not true for Mac OS X?ordinary people do know the difference?and advantages?of native applications. Why do you think it will be different for iOS?

Example: Fruit Smash Organic. If I didn’t tell you that was a Flash app for iPhone, how would you know?

And to make sure we’re talking about the same thing.. FSO actually is a “native application”. It’s just built from cross-platform Flash source and packaged by an Adobe tool for deployment on iOS. But it sounds like you’re saying it’s not a “native application” because it is not coded up in Objective-C.

On the Mac, the potential customers I have run into who notice or complain about an app being Carbon-based and/or developed with REAL Studio have been and are still few and far between. One thing they tend to be is insufferable.


my business will ask is: what?s the ROI?

After a bit of reflection, @jfbiii, I think it’s even worse than that. Despite the very nice hardware specs, this device is essentially an expensive accessory to a BlackBerry smartphone, like the ultra-short-lived Palm Foleo. As such, it will underscore how incomplete the BlackBerry platform is without a good screen, a good app development environment, enough RAM + CPU that you can do full-featured apps. OTOH, the dual CPU and all that RAM… what business need will it serve? You can obviously do sales videos and Powerpoint with what the iPad has, so this seems rather unfocused.

By contrast, the 1.0 -1.5GHz, 0.5-1GB, 4.3”+ Apple and Android devices available next year will do it all in one piece of gear. Why buy a limited BlackBerry that needs a $500(?) screen and processor to make it useful?

Let’s use the form factor for a point of reference. First, the almost-10” iPad: every ad I’ve seen shows it in a laptop (hah!) about 24” away from the eyes. The Playbook (a VERY GOOD name, btw) will present essentially the same view at 17”, about right for atop a desk. An iPhone subtends the same view at about 9”, just as the mockup Win7Phone ads lampoon, fine for in-a-coccoon work.

First, dismiss any chance that this thing is intended for the home. Forget RIM’s mockup ad with videos and music and all that. It’s a portable Enterprise desktop device, OK for Starbucks but not an on-the-road device or a couch or bedroom device. Relying on a BlackBerry phone for contact/calendar info, it’s not a nifty “I saw this story” or “Fwd: Joke” or videophone or Facebook machine for the home. And without a superior music/vid/TV/books store, the HDMI output is wasted ? strictly “yeah, we can sorta do what Apple does.”

That stands to reason, given how other news stories emphasize how RIM touted how they’ve listened to their Enterprise customers in creating the Playbook. That’s a great strategy in a slow-evolution environment, almost guaranteed death in the sort of tsunami we’re surfing these days. (See Destruction, Creative or Technology, Disruptive.) By the way, it’s not clear that these days, IT makes decisions that require the firm to buy gizmos that users don’t want, versus enabling gizmos that employees happily waltz in the door with, any more, or at least don’t pout when you hand ‘em out. Still, let’s run with the Enterprise angle. What are the use cases now?

As a briefing book? The over-55, over-worked Board members at MY firm aren’t gonna be squinting at these screens if they could opt instead for an iPad.

As a nurse’s or doc’s I/O device? What, they’re gonna have to use a BlackBerry, too, and then put the thing between themselves & the patient? Sounds like the bad ROI case above.

As a sales or technician support device integrated into IT systems? Now, maybe we’re getting somewhere, the embarrassingly Rube Goldberg system design with multiple points-of-failure notwithstanding. Assuming the battery can last all day (likely, thanks to a smaller screen), and the required-for-tethering BlackBerry’s battery survives a day’s worth of sales calls plus phoning, IT might find this a friendly platform for CRM and/or mobile order management.

Trouble is, it’s STILL an expensive solution for 2011-12 versus an iPad v2/3 or one of the many Android tablets. And this is a brand new OS platform; IT won’t have evaluation units until sometime 3+ months from now, to put into budgets for ... 2012?. And I’ve seen bupkiss about the shiny new, not yet 1.0 SDK. And the only cross-platform approach that is likely to be ready at release, Flash, seems wildly inappropriate to highly transaction-, data- and analytically-oriented apps.

So I am not surprised to see the stock off 3% today. Too little, too late. Apple may feel compelled to up the specs on the iPad to meet the hardware capacity, but aside from a FaceTime camera, I doubt even that. Microsoft may have to face a competitor with a more complete story, but saying that the Playbook is a good competitor against 5 others in a shrunken market is not going to delay the day RIM goes up for sale to Microsoft.

This is nowhere near the game-changer that’ll rescue BlackBerry’s declining market share.


I use a kindle3, and I love it. But I find that readability is much better with the kindle app on my iPad.

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