Blackberry launches Playbook rival to iPad

It is the latest tablet computer to enter a highly competitive market

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Blackberry has announced its answer to Apple's iPad with a device called the Playbook.

The company unveiled its tablet computer to much anticipation at its developer conference, Devcon, in San Francisco.

It is one of the first business-centric devices in the tablet market.

Analysts said that the release was a clever move by the Blackberry maker Research In Motion whose smartphones dominate the business sector.

'Cutting edge'

"This is one of the most exciting times in our history," said Mike Lazaridis, RIM chief executive officer.

"RIM set out to engineer the best professional-grade tablet in the industry with cutting-edge hardware features and one of the world's most robust and flexible operating systems," added Mr Lazaridis.

Mike Lazaridis holds the Playbook Mr Lazaridis says it is an "exciting time" for RIM

Analysts have said the Playbook will give RIM an opportunity to dominate in a market it is familiar with and where it enjoys a solid reputation.

"RIM's Blackberry Playbook tablet looks to be a real challenger to Apple's iPad, playing on its business credentials, rather than being just another joy machine'," Stuart Miles, editor of mobile technology website Pocket-Lint told BBC News.

"Whether RIM can deliver what it promises in the business environment with a selection of new apps on yet another operating system will be the real test though. Either way, it's clear that the battle of the tablets is now full steam ahead."

QNX software

In the smartphone arena, RIM maintains a comfortable lead in the US with a 39.3% share according to research firm ComScore.

The iPhone's share of the US market was 23.8% and Google's Android was 17% for the quarter ending in July.

Globally, all of the firms trail handsets that run the Symbian operating system, which accounts for around 40% of the market.

The RIM Playbook The Playbook will have Bluetooth and WiFi.

The Playbook will have a 7-inch (18cm) screen with front and rear facing cameras to enable video conferencing, an important feature that will appeal to the business market.

The operating system will not use the new Blackberry OS 6 but has instead opted for QNX software, which was recently acquired by RIM and has extensive expertise in embedded systems for the car.

The new OS is designed specifically for the tablet size computer and will avoid the difficulties that come from adjusting a smartphone OS to the tablet platform.

The Playbook will have Bluetooth and wi-fi. It will have no 3G capabilities but will enable a data connection by tethering to a Blackberry smartphone.

Analysts at research firm CCS Insight said that this may "hamper acceptance by operators" who will not be able to charge for a separate data connection for the device.

'Exciting'

RIM expects to ship the device to corporate customers and developers in October.

It will become commercially available early in 2011.

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

"It's by far the most exciting thing we've seen from BlackBerry for a while and for once the buzz seems to have been justified," said Kate Solomon of mobile news and views site Recombu.com.

What remains to be seen is whether RIM can keep the price realistic for everyday users - despite all the high quality features, a high price tag will put a lot of people off and convince them that a tablet is a superfluous gadget that they don't really need."

Tablet market

The launch of the Playbook comes as the tablet market becomes an increasingly competitive and crowded field, energised in no small part by the iPad.

Since its April launch, the iPad has dominated the space with research firm iSuppli predicting sales of 12 million by the end of the year.

Another research firm, UBS, put iPad sales at 28 million by 2011.

One contender looking to put a dent in the iPad's lead is HP.

At a nearby conference called TechCrunch Disrupt, Todd Bradley, the company's executive vice president for the personal systems group said tablets are going to be a huge market.

Mr Bradley told attendees that he estimates that in the next few years tablets will be a $40bn market.

Samsung recently introduced its Galaxy tablet as did Dell with the 5 inch Streak. Other companies waiting in the wings with their versions include Lenovo, Asus, HTC, and Acer as well as Google and Microsoft.

A possible contender for the business customer is likely to come in the form of Cisco's Cius tablet.

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