RIM unveils iPad rival

Research in Motion, manufacturer of the BlackBerry mobile device, yesterday revealed a new tablet PC device comparable to Apple’s iPad.

The product, named PlayBook, appears to be aimed squarely at the business market. It is described by the company as “enterprise ready,” and can be used in conjunction with BlackBerry Enterprise Server, the back end software that businesses use to manage and secure their employees’ BlackBerry devices.

Analysts see the release as an attempt by RIM to hold on to its enterprise user base in the face of the growing popularity of Apple’s products among business executives.

“Blackberry is launching a huge bid to try to retain any customers who have not yet fled to the iPhone and iPad,” wrote Nigel Fenwick, principal analyst at Forrester Researh.

The device is based on a version of the QNX operating system, a Unix-like platform designed for embedded systems. Applications for the device must be built as web applications, using either HTML5, the latest incarnation of the web development language, or Abode’s Flash multimedia platform.

When it is launched in 2011, the device will not support 3G mobile Internet. Instead, users will have to connect to the web through a BlackBerry or through WiFi, although this may change.

Michael Gartenberg, mobile analyst for Altimeter Group, dismissed the announcement of PlayBook as ‘vapor’. “Call me when it’s real,” he wrote on Twitter last night.

Forrester’s Fenwick was more muted in his appraisal of the product. “Whether or not PlayBook gets the CIO off the hook from providing support for iPads is a question that will play out once Playbooks hit the stores,” he wrote. “My guess is no. Executives will still demand support for iPads and a whole lot of iPads will sell over the coming holiday season – while Playbooks remain unavailable."

RIM also announced yesterday that software developers will be able to build applications on top of the BlackBerry Messanger (BBM) instant messaging service. This will allow them “to integrate various functions of the BBM service into their applications including chat capabilities, content sharing, and invitations,” the company said in a statement. “For example, users will be able to invite their BBM friends to join them in a game and then chat with one another while the game is being played.”

Pete Swabey

Pete Swabey

Pete was Editor of Information Age and head of technology research for Vitesse Media plc from 2005 to 2013, before moving on to be Senior Editor and then Editorial Director at The Economist Intelligence...

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