The tablet PC market race is heating up once again. This time, it's Canadian mobile phone company Research In Motion's (Nasdaq: RIMM ) (RIM) turn to do what Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) and Samsung have done in the past. Research In Motion is set to launch its own twist on the iPad in April.
RIM, which has enjoyed a leading position in the smartphone market, is now broadening its horizon and, riding on its brand strength, hopes to pull an Apple. But, does RIM have the skills and the zeal to beat such an established player as Apple in the tablet PC race? It seems RIM is placing its bets on its capability to integrate apps and skills.
How can it make a difference?
RIM's shift in tablets is partly thanks to market share pressures stemming from the iPhone and iPad soaking up user demand in more profitable high-end devices. Although few details are available, the Playbook is supposed to weigh less than a pound -- lighter than even the recently launched iPad 2. But marginal variations in size and weight alone are unlikely to exert pressure on the popularity of the iPad.
Although the Playbook shares certain similarities with the iPad, features such as support for open and flexible application platforms AIR and Flash, made by Adobe Systems, give it a distinct feel.
Adobe has already partnered with Ottawa-based QNX, which was acquired by RIM last year. In a bit of a surprise move, RIM chose to power the PlayBook with QNX's Neutrino, a Unix-based operating system. Through its use of QNX's software, RIM hopes to ensure optimal power usage and support a wide range of multimedia applications including Flash and 3-D. Apple's iPads and iPhones do not support Flash.
While the combination of AIR and Flash supports automatic formatting of contents regardless of the screen size, reducing manual intervention, the combination of QNX and Flash makes multi-tasking easy. The exclusion of Flash player in Apple products has been a major setback for users, including those from the corporate sector who face trouble viewing flash-based menus. This is one area where RIM's tablet could gain an upper hand.
It's also worth mentioning that security features have also been given a priority in the Playbook. The playbook provides a secured connection with Blackberry phones, which, when disconnected, removes the data automatically, thus reducing the risk of data leakage and hacking. This is an appealing feature for the security conscious users and the corporate sector. The Blackberry Playbook will need such extra factors to dive in the red ocean of the tablet competition.
Uncertainty among hopes
The announcement of RIM's entry into the tablet market last September created a lot of hype surrounding the product. Nevertheless, as Playbook enters the tablet fray, Motorola Mobility's (NYSE: MMI ) 10-inch Android tablet Xoom has already been on the market for nearly two months.
The tablet market is almost entirely controlled by Apple, so the Playbook needs to strategically draw attention of tablet users and distributors. RIM has chosen Sprint Nextel (NYSE: S ) as the first carrier of the Blackberry 4G tablet. This could be a big boost for Sprint as well, especially considering the staunch competition the company is facing from major U.S. wireless rivals such as AT&T (NYSE: T ) , which is an iPad launch partner, and Verizon (NYSE: VZ ) , which sells the iPad along with Motorola's Xoom tablet.
Before making any investment decisions based on this news, I'd recommend taking a wait-and-see approach. I like what I see from the Playbook, but with only a few days left before the Playbook is finally in our hands, let's see how the reviews pan out. The tablet does better than some of its rivals in managing to match the same price points as the iPad, but matching Apple's level might not be enough to top the hot-selling iPad and its large collection of apps and other content.