RIM's PlayBook Runs Onto a Crowded Field

It might be called the PlayBook, but the new tablet computer from BlackBerry maker Research in Motion (RIMM) is all about business. "The principal market for this is busy working people," RIM co-Chief Executive Jim Balsillie says.

The device, introduced by co-CEO Mike Lazaridis in San Francisco on Sept. 27, will go head-to-head with Apple's (AAPL) iPad. The PlayBook boasts several features the iPad lacks, including front- and rear-facing cameras for teleconferencing and the ability to play online videos made with Adobe's (ADBE) Flash technology. It's also smaller and lighter, and comes with the same security features that made the BlackBerry popular (and sometimes unpopular) with governments and corporations.

That might not be enough to win in a crowded field. The PlayBook won't go on sale until early 2011. Hewlett-Packard (HPQ), Samsung, and Motorola (MOT) are all building similar devices. Apple said in July that 50 percent of Fortune 100 companies are testing the iPad or providing it to employees.

RIM has yet to announce prices and says the first version of the device will access the Web from a Wi-Fi hotspot or by wirelessly connecting through a BlackBerry via Bluetooth technology. Subsequent versions will be able to connect to mobile-phone networks.

Unlike Apple, RIM has no glitzy retail stores to lure new customers. Balsillie said the PlayBook will be sold through carriers and retailers, though he didn't give specifics. Still, RIM has one major advantage in its distribution efforts. "The initial low-hanging fruit for the company is to go after the installed subscriber base of 50 million," says Ashok Kumar, an analyst at Rodman & Renshaw in San Francisco.

The bottom line: RIM's new PlayBook tablet includes some features the iPad currently lacks, but it won't go on sale until early 2011.

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