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RIM Unveils Tablet as BlackBerry Maker Chases IPad

RIM Unveils Tablet as BlackBerry Maker Chases IPad
RIM Co-CEO Mike Lazaridis holds the new PlayBook tablet computer during his keynote address at the BlackBerry DEVCON developers conference in San Francisco. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Research In Motion Ltd., maker of the BlackBerry smartphone, unveiled a tablet computer to compete with Apple Inc.’s iPad and add a fresh source of revenue as BlackBerry sales growth slows in the U.S.

The device, called the BlackBerry PlayBook, has a 7-inch (18-centimeter) screen, RIM co-CEO Jim Balsillie said in an interview in New York. That’s smaller than the iPad’s 9.7-inch display. The company didn’t give a price for the PlayBook, which is slimmer and lighter than the iPad.

RIM is racing to get its tablet into stores as Hewlett- Packard Co., Samsung Electronics Co. and Motorola Inc. build similar devices in a bid to emulate the success of the iPad in filling the gap between smartphones and laptops. Apple sold 3 million iPads in the first 80 days after the device’s April debut, eclipsing sales of its iPod music player.

“RIM needs a tablet device because it’s necessary for all the device makers to have a multiplatform strategy to compete in the long-term,” said Scott Sutherland, an analyst at Wedbush Securities Inc. in Los Angeles. “With new devices coming out on multiple operating systems, it’s as much defensive for RIM to have a tablet as it is offensive.”

The tablet will be available in the U.S. in early 2011 and in other countries in the second quarter, RIM said.

RIM, based in Waterloo, Ontario, rose as much as $1.29, or 2.7 percent, to $49.65 in extended trading after closing at $48.36 on the Nasdaq Stock Market. The stock has lost 28 percent this year, compared with a 38 percent gain for Apple.

Shrinking Market Share

“The smaller screen allows a little more portability than an iPad, making it easier to carry in your briefcase,” said Matt Thornton, an analyst at Avian Securities LLC in Boston, in an interview.

The company is counting on the tablet to increase revenue as the BlackBerry loses ground. RIM’s share of the smartphone market slid to 18.2 percent in the second quarter from 19 percent a year earlier. Apple’s iPhone boosted its share to 14.2 percent from 13 percent and devices based on Google Inc.’s Android software surged to 17.2 percent from 1.8 percent, according to researcher IDC.

The BlackBerry Torch touch-screen phone, which went on sale last month, has received mixed reviews from technology columnists who said its screen resolution and processor speed lag behind rivals like the iPhone and Galaxy, an Android phone from Samsung.

Flash Video

The PlayBook has been built with the BlackBerry’s security features that made it popular with governments and Wall Street banks, differentiating the tablet from the competition, Balsillie said. The device’s Web browser is compatible with Adobe Systems Inc.’s Flash technology to allow customers to watch a bigger range of video content from the Internet, he said. The iPad doesn’t run Flash video or animations.

“The principal market for this is busy working people,” Balsillie said. “We’re not trying to say this is all things to all people.”

The Flash capability will help the PlayBook compete with the iPad, which has been marketed as a device for consumers, rather than businesses, Thornton said.

Balsillie said the PlayBook, which weighs 400 grams (0.9 pounds) and includes a front- and rear-facing camera, to be sold through carriers and retailers, without naming customers.

New Operating System

The tablet uses Wi-Fi to connect to the Internet wherever the wireless technology is available, including a home or office. When not near such Wi-Fi “hotspots,” people can connect wirelessly to their BlackBerry with Bluetooth technology and then to the Web. The device won’t be able to connect directly to the mobile-phone network the way some iPads can, though RIM plans later versions that will be able to do that.

RIM is building the device based on software built by QNX Software Systems, a company RIM bought in April for $200 million. That marks a shift away from BlackBerry 6, the latest version of the BlackBerry operating system, used in the Torch.

At least one person familiar with RIM’s tablet plan said last month the company opted for QNX because BlackBerry 6 includes legacy software code from older BlackBerrys that limits what devices can offer consumers.

While QNX’s software is used to help control the music and media features in BMW and Porsche sports cars, it is also used in the control systems for nuclear power plants and the U.S. Army’s unmanned Crusher tank.

That will give it a higher level of reliability than rival operating systems built for smartphones and adapted for tablet devices, Balsillie said.

“It’s a performance-based OS that we migrated to tablet and mobility as opposed to, ‘hey, I’m tablet and mobility, how do I get high performance,’” he said.

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