The Growing Tablet Market

By Reuters  |  Print this article Print

RIM's BlackBerry Playbook features a seven-inch screen and dual facing cameras, but requires a link to a BlackBerry smartphone in order to access the 3G network.

The market for tablets -- touchscreen devices larger than a smartphone and smaller than a laptop -- has gotten more congested since Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) launched its iPad in April, with Samsung (005930.KS) and Dell (NASDAQ:DELL) showing off releases in the past two months and others expected from Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ) and Toshiba (6502.T).

While the market's direction is relatively uncharted, most analysts agree success will be measured by which applications each tablet can run.

"RIM has a strong story to tell to developers to say - look, however you want to make things for this thing, we're giving you tools and a platform that will allow you to do that," said Forrester Research principal analyst Charles Golvin.

RIM also launched its own mobile advertising network, following Apple's entry into that market earlier this year. Google's AdMob also has a major presence in mobile advertising.

RIM said developers will receive 60 percent of the advertising revenue, and RIM will provide analytics tools for targeting the ads effectively.

PlayBook can mirror a BlackBerry phone, giving users a bigger screen to view media and edit documents, and wipes all corporate data once the link between the two devices is broken.

The absence of a direct link to the cellular network means network carriers may be less eager to subsidize the device or promote it heavily. But corporate IT departments will likely cheer about its ability to mirror a company-issued BlackBerry without retaining that data when that link is broken.

"It's compelling, certainly to an IT guy, if they can look at this tablet and say it's really nothing we have to lock down," said Kevin Burden from ABI Research. "An IT manager can look at this tablet and say we don't even need to put this on our asset-tracking list."

The PlayBook weighs 400 grams (14 ounces). It will launch with a dual-core, one gigahertz processor running a QNX kernel and operating system that can incorporate BlackBerry OS 6, which RIM introduced in its Torch smartphone in August.

The QNX operating system uses industry standard APIs, or application programming interfaces, meaning developers should have little difficulty in making their games, software and other applications work on the device.

"All the code that is out there, and there is a huge source base out there, (it) is completely portable to QNX," said Dan Dodge, who co-founded QNX and led the company until RIM acquired it less than a year ago.

RIM has yet to set an exact price for the PlayBook but says it will fall in the lower range of prices for consumer tablets already in the suddenly congested market.

Asked if later versions will connect to advanced 4G networks now under development, RIM co-Chief Executive Jim Balsillie told Reuters: "That's not a question we're answering today, but it's not a hard one to guess at." (Reporting by Gabriel Madway in San Fransisco and Alastair Sharp in Toronto; Editing by Frank McGurty)