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BlackTab Could Kick RIM Into Gear Again

BlackTab Could Kick RIM Into Gear Again

The upcoming tablet computer from Research In Motion -- unofficially dubbed the "BlackPad" -- is the company's next new hope for revitalization. Although RIM still holds a dominating position in the smartphone market with particular strength in the enterprise, it's latest offerings look pretty pale next to iPhones and Androids. RIM hopes a tablet running a brand new OS will up its cool factor.

By Rob Spiegel
09/22/10 12:01 PM PT

BlackBerry maker Research In Motion will likely introduce a new operating system along with a tablet PC, known informally as the "BlackPad," when its developer conference opens on Monday in San Francisco. The Wall Street Journal and BusinessWeek have leaked details about the upcoming tablet over the last few weeks. The BlackPad is expected to become available by the end of this year, perhaps as early as November.

The industry's eyes will be on RIM's developer conference -- and there are big expectations.

"RIM promised we would see new products at the conference," Aziti Arvani, principal of the Arvani Group, told TechNewsWorld. "The market is waiting for something big and interesting. The market is nervous about how RIM is going to show leadership in this space, and now they have a lot of devices to compete with."

New Operating System

One of the most significant details emerging is that the BlackPad will not use the BlackBerry operating system. Even though RIM recently upgraded its BlackBerry OS when it launched its latest smartphone, the Torch, the BlackPad is expected to show up with a new operating system.

The new OS may be designed specifically for the tablet size, avoiding the difficulties that come with adjusting a smartphone OS to the tablet platform.

"The problem we've seen with the Android tablet is that Android hasn't scaled well to the tablet size," Rob Enderle, principal with the Enderle Group, told TechNewsWorld. "The end result is that RIM looked at that and decided they wanted to go for something that was specifically designed for the tablet size."

That approach is consistent with Apple's; apps are developed for the iPhone and iPad as different products.

Technical Details

The BlackBerry tablet is expected to come with a 7-inch screen, though rumors of a 9.7-inch screen persist.

The BlackPad will come with a fully functioning camera, and it will run on an operating system developed by QNX, which RIM acquired last April.

The BlackPad will not have a built-in 3G antenna, according to the WSJ report. Instead, users will have to tether their BlackBerry handset to the tablet for cellular data service.

The tablet will come with Bluetooth connectivity and a broadband connection, the Journal said, suggesting it will have WiFi capability.

Enterprise-Specific Tablet?

One edge RIM may have over Apple's iPad and other upcoming tablet PC rivals is the company's position in the business world. The BlackBerry is the preferred smartphone in the enterprise market. However, questions remain about whether the BlackPad can dominate in the business market.

"It would be embarrassing if RIM did not get good penetration in the enterprise market," said Enderle.

However, tablet purchases at businesses are not prompted by the IT department, he noted. "Employees have been driving the pad at companies, not IT."

This could shift the tablet decision to a more consumer-oriented product.

It's unlikely that RIM will automatically nab the enterprise market just because of the BlackBerry's penetration, according to Arvani.

"It depends on what the BlackPad looks like and functions like," she said. "Then we'll see whether it competes and wins the enterprise market."

Screen size, speed and applications are the competitive factors for the BlackPad, Arvani noted. "Rumors say it's a 7-inch screen, which is smaller than Apple's almost 10-inch screen. The Apple has a 1-gig processor. If the BlackPad is as fast or faster, that will be good."

A front-facing camera for video conferencing is also an important feature for the enterprise market, she pointed out -- as is business software.

"I'm assuming RIM's starting point will be with enterprise applications," predicted Arvani. "So we expect good enterprise applications."


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