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RIM’s Playbook Tablet Due Out In Early 2011

November 11, 2010

Research In Motion, maker of the popular BlackBerry smartphone, plans to take on Apple’s iPad with a competitively priced new tablet computer slated for release in the first quarter of next year.

RIM Co-Chief Executive Jim Balsillie said the company’s tablet computer, called Playbook, will start contributing to its sales “right at the gate.” The device will sell for less than $500. Apple”Ëœs cheapest iPad, featuring Wi-Fi only connectivity, starts at $499.

There has been a competitive battle for mobile dominance, mostly between Apple and Google’s Android operating system. RIM sees this as the right time to try to take away some of that dominance from those companies.

“You have seen the smartphone market just explode…we are in the right sweet spot… This idea that there are two players and a small pie and they are divvying that between them — you are missing the point,” Balsillie told Reuters in an interview on the sidelines of the G20 CEO Summit in Seoul, referring to that battle for mobile dominance.

The Playbook, which features a 7-inch display screen, 3 inches smaller than the Apple iPad, and also supports Adobe’s Flash multimedia software, has been criticized by Apple CEO Steve Jobs.

Last month, Jobs said tablet computers with 7-inch screens, including Playbook, that will compete with Apple’s iPad will essentially be “dead on arrival” when they come out on the market. RIM insists that seven-inch tablets will be a major competitor in the tablet market.

RIM will be lagging behind rivals such as Samsung, which aims to sell 1 million units of its Galaxy tablet this quarter alone. Apple’s iPad controls 95 percent of the tablet market.

RIM, once a long-running dominant player in the corporate smartphone market, sees that dominance slipping as companies increasingly allow use of iPhone and a slew of devices running on the Android system. BlackBerry’s strong hold on corporate communications is being chewed up by rival devices, with many financial corporations including Bank of America and Citigroup looking at alternatives to the BlackBerry.

Balsillie has shrugged off market concerns and said sales of its smartphones are set to increase by two-thirds in the next few years.

“We’re close to 60 million BlackBerry subscribers now and if we continue to perform moderately, we’ll be 100 million (subscribers) in couple of years…two years,” he said.

Apple overtook RIM as the world’s No.2 smartphone maker last quarter, now trailing only Nokia. Apple sold 14.1 million units, while RIM sold 12.4 million in the July-September quarter. RIM saw its market share slip more than 4 percent from just a year ago, according to figures from industry tracker IDC.

RIM is increasingly dependent on lower-margin emerging markets in Latin America and Asia for sales growth but India and other countries are also causing headaches for RIM with demands for access to encrypted data.

“We have seen tremendous growth in India, Taiwan, Philippines, Indonesia, China…It is paradoxical, the security issue,” noted Balsillie, adding it is not affecting the company’s business.

NASDAQ-listed shares of RIM jumped more than 6 percent on Wednesday to $58.72, the highest since June.

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