The tablet wars heated up Monday with Research in Motion's BlackBerry PlayBook making an impressive debut. Apple, the undisputed leader with its iPad, now faces a challenge from RIM and Samsung and its Galaxy Tab introduced earlier this month. The three competitors each approach the tablet market differently: offering three distinct mobile operating systems, three different target markets, and varying pricing models.
The 7-inch BlackBerry PlayBook represents a fresh start for RIM. It features a new OS called BlackBerry Tablet OS, (the result of RIM's acquisition of QNX earlier this year), and is packed with hardware goodies. For starters the PlayBook sports a dual-core 1GHz processor (1Ghz single-core on the iPad and Galaxy Tab), and boasts a whopping 1GB RAM (twice as much as the Tab and four times as much as the iPad).
Like the Galaxy Tab, the PlayBook has two cameras, but with almost double the pixel resolution (5MP back, 3MP front on the PlayBook, 3MP back, 1.3MP front on the Tab). Even better, the PlayBook will be able to record 1080p HD video with the camera on the back, while Apple's iPad has no cameras whatsoever. The HD videos you record with a PlayBook can also be played on an external display via the built-in microHDMI port (Tab can do the same, but only via a separate dock).
High Hopes For New BlackBerry Tablet OS
RIM targets the PlayBook for the corporate folk, but there are plenty of multimedia features to keep consumers happy. The new BlackBerry Tablet OS looks like mashup between the latest BlackBerry OS 6 (found on the new BlackBerry Torch) and Palm's WebOS (now owned by HP), including the cards metaphor used for multitasking.
RIM and Adobe also integrated Adobe Flash Player 10.1 on the PlayBook, as well as Adobe AIR apps. Taking another leaf from Palm's playbook, RIM's upcoming tablet can mirror a BlackBerry phone's data via Bluetooth tethering (anyone remember the Foleo?). RIM now needs to get developers on board to create apps for the PlayBook. New incentives have been added like in-app purchases, as well as access to proprietary APIs for apps like BBIM. Amazon already announced its Kindle reading software for the PlayBook.
Crunch Time: What We Don't Know
RIM has left unanswered a few important ingredients to the PlayBook's success. There is no word on pricing (similar to the Samsung Galaxy Tab pricing dilemma), especially as the device won't have 3G capabilities at first, and no carrier subsidies are in sight. RIM intends to also offer 3G and 4G PlayBooks, but there was no specific time frame.
The BlackBerry maker didn't mention how much storage will come on board of the PlayBook, but reports say the tablets showcased at the launch event had 16GB and 32GB on board. Battery life is also a mistery, and again, unconfirmed reports put this figure at around eight hours, more than the Galaxy Tab, but less than the iPad.
Finally, the availability of the BlackBerry PlayBook is unknown. RIM said it would arrive sometime next year, thus missing on the crucial holiday season this year. However, a Spring 2011 launch can spell trouble for the PlayBook.
Despite superior hardware performance over the iPad right now, Apple is expected to refresh the iPad with cameras, more RAM, and more processing power around the same time as the slated arrival time of the PlayBook. So by the time it arrives, the PlayBook won't have to fight with the current iPad, but with the second generation of Apple's tablet.