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RIM Opens the Cover on Its PlayBook

By Paul Hartsock
Jan 6, 2011 12:26 PM PT

The 2011 Consumer Electronics Show kicked into full swing Thursday as exhibitors threw open the show floor doors and let in the throngs of gadget gawkers gathered at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

RIM Opens the Cover on Its PlayBook

Larger vendors' booths were immediately swamped with attendees poking and prodding the newest wares. I happened upon Research In Motion's outpost to check out the PlayBook, the BlackBerry tablet the company will launch early this year.

BlackBerry Playbook
The BlackBerry PlayBook
At first glance, the PlayBook closely resembles the Samsung Galaxy Tab, a 7-inch Android tablet that came out last autumn. RIM's item, however, runs a QNX operating system.

QNX looks somewhat like the BlackBerry OS found on the company's smartphones, but it comes from a separate technological bloodline. The RIM representative I spoke with indicated it's possible that future BlackBerry handsets will themselves feature a QNX-based OS, but plans are still hazy.

Physically, the PlayBook is an ectomorph of a tablet. Its 7-inch screen sits on a 1-cm-thick chassis, and the unit weighs in at just under a pound. Front and rear cameras provide 3 and 5 megapixels, respectively.

BlackBerry as Gatekeeper

So far, this sounds a lot like the Galaxy Tab, save for the operating system. Where things get interesting is how the unit handles its wireless connections. The simple route is to just use WiFi -- the unit can connect to an everyday wireless router.

For a cellular data connection, though, you can bridge the PlayBook to a BlackBerry phone. This can be done wirelessly also, but the actual data you send and receive will be routed through the handset.

RIM says that using the handset to act as a sort of gatekeeper can enhance the device's data security protections. In fact, bridging through a BlackBerry phone is the only way to access enterprise data like corporate email through the tablet.

A Place in App World?

The device's interface also puts a new spin on touch interaction. The PlayBook does not have a "dumb" bezel as most other tablets do. Poking around on the actual screen yields the expected reaction -- jab at buttons, swipe things this way and that, etc. But if you begin a swipe on the black frame surrounding the screen, the action calls up the PlayBook's top-level functions. An iPad user might consider this a kind of virtual Home button.

The PlayBook should be launched in the first quarter of this year. Price is still unknown.

Also unknown is the device's app situation. RIM's BlackBerry App World has been providing handset users with software for nearly two years, but the company says PlayBook's relationship with the app outlet is still in development, so it's unclear whether the tablet's users will be permitted to shop in RIM's own store.

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