How Will the RIM PlayBook Fare Against the iPad and Android Tablets?

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In rolling out the new BlackBerry PlayBook this week, RIM co-CEO Michael Lazaridis dubbed the long-rumored device “the world’s first professional tablet.” Yet while RIM rattled off a long list of competitive features, including Adobe Flash support and dual HD cameras, it’s clear that some questions still unanswered — such as pricing and battery life — will also figure into RIM’s ability to fend off Apple’s iPad.

During a general session at RIM’s annual dev conference, officials focused a lot on the PlayBook’s small and light form factor, along with its support for both the QNX operating system (OS) and Adobe Flash.

PlayBook

The PlayBook is “super comfortable to hold and super convenient to carry,” Lazaridis contended. In contrast to Apple’s first generation, nine-inch iPad, RIM’s new tablet measures only seven inches. The PlayBook is less than one-inch thick, and it weighs less than one pound.

“The first time you hold (the PlayBook), it just feels right, and you want to take it with you wherever you do,” RIM’s co-CEO told the software developers in San Francisco.

How will RIM’s PlayBook stack up against the iPad?

With hundreds of thousands of iOS-based software apps already available for the iPad, RIM would have tons of catching up to do around app development for QNX, introduced  as a separate mobile operating environment from the BlackBerry OS used on RIM’s smartphones.

Consequently, RIM developers are expected to concentrate on app development in Adobe Flash. The PlayBook will offer “incredibly performing” Flash 10.1 with full video acceleration, the developers were told.

RIM PlayBookApple’s existing iPad doesn’t support Flash, and it doesn’t include the dual front- and rear-facing HD cameras that RIM’s PlayBook will offer for videoconferencing.

The PlayBook will also come with a 1GHz dual-core processor and 1 GB of RAM. Other specs announced on Monday include a 7-inch WSVGA (1024-by-600) screen,;1080p “full HD” video recording and playback; built-in 802.11 WiFi a/b/g/n; Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR; symmetric multiprocessing (SMP) support; microUSB connectivity; and support for H.264, DivX, and MPEG video. Other supported development environments will include Adobe Mobile AIR, Java, Posix, and OpenGL.

The PlayBook will also enjoy some other competitive advantages over the first gen iPad, including encrypted messaging support and compatibility with RIM’s large installed base of BlackBerry Enterprise Servers.

Although pricing of the PlayBook is still unknown, RIM did announce a delivery date of early 2011. At the same time, though, a second-generation iPad is also under way, with a feature set and release date which also loom as question marks.

RIM has not yet announced, either, the battery life of the PlayBook — an area where the iPad stands particularly strong — or when the PlayBook will be enabled with built-in 3G/4G cellular wireless.

According to some of those who took a peek at RIM’s device in San Francisco, Internet connectivity seems to be initially achievable only through either WiFi or a cellular connection via a BlackBerry phone.

Some on-site observers were also unhappy that only one working prototype was available on launch date, and this unit did little more than play back video.  As a result, hands-on operational performance turned out to be tough to gauge.

Could Android tablets also turn out to be rivals?

Meanwhile, Samsung and other manufacturers are now readying multiple competing tablets running on the Android OS. Although these are targeted right now at consumers, some of these Android tablet makers will undoubtedly expand into the business space.

Like RIM’s now forthcoming PlayBook, and unlike the first gen iPad, Samsung’s seven-inch Galaxy Tab will be outfitted with dual-facing front and rear cameras. Also like these two rival tablets, the Tab will be without a hard keyboard, although Samsung will offer a hard keyboard through its Keyboard Dock accessory.

So far as anyone knows, no carrier has yet outfitted the Tab with 3G/4G capabilities. In contrast to Apple’s iPad, which is available for AT&T’s wireless network, Samsung’s first gen Android table also looks likely to be WiFi-only.

The Tab, however, has a projected ship date much earlier than that of the PlayBook. US carriers AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile are all expected to release Samsung’s tablet by the end of this year.

In a hands-on with a European Union (EU) edition of the Galaxy Tab in New York City a couple of weeks ago, I found Samsung’s gadget be almost ready for primetime, except for its dysfunctional GPS and only sporadic accelerometer capabilities.

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