SAN JOSE, Calif. – The release of the RIM Playbook--a tablet computer for business users from the maker of the Blackberry smartphone--raises the question, how can engineers differentiate their devices in this new mobile market?
An EE Times article in June first tackled that question. With new tablets arriving at a cadence of one every few weeks, the issue continues to burn brightly for many designers.
"Differentiation in the tablet market will soon become intensely difficult as a variety of similar-looking slates hit the market with common operating platforms and services,” said Kevin Burden, director of mobile device research of ABI Research.
Research in Motion is trying to distinguish its Playbook with its media support. The device supports hardware-assisted 1,080-progressive video playback and Adobe Flash 10.1 and includes a mini HDMI connector, said RIM's chief executive Mike Lazaridis, showing the Playbook at a developer conference in San Francisco.
For video conferencing, the RIM tablet has a 3 MPixel front-side camera and a 5 MPixel camera on the back. "That’s the richest combination of camera modules we've seen," said Jeff Brown, vice president of business intelligence at UBM TechInsights, a division of United Business Media, the publisher of EE Times.
"It looks like a great Web and video conferencing platform," said Brown.
However, RIM's use of the Neutrino software recently acquired with QNX forces it to start from scratch for applications compared to the Apple iOS and Android-based tablets such as Samsung's recently released Galaxy Tab.
"That makes them a distant third" in apps, said Brown.
To tackle that problem, RIM announced BlackBerry WebWorks, a framework to quickly build apps that could run on Netrino in the Playbook or on existing RIM handsets using the Blackberry 6 environment.
RIM did not disclose what GHz-class, dual-core processor the Playbook uses. Brown speculated it could be the Nvidia Tegra due to its need for high-end media support and reports Neutrino has been ported to Tegra.
Like the Galaxy Tab and Cisco Cius--an Android tablet also focused on business users and video conferencing—the Playbook uses a seven-inch display. That's significantly smaller than the Apple iPad's 9.7-inch screen, but Brown estimated the Playbook has a higher pixel density at 170 pixels/inch compared to 132 for the iPad.
"It will look sharp," Brown said.
“Building to the performance requirements of the enterprise will continue to be RIM’s key differentiator that even consumers recognize,” said Burden of ABI Research.
There are plenty more tablets on the horizon including models expected from top PC and handset makers from Hewlett-Packard and Nokia. Dell previewed a hybrid tablet/netbook at the Intel Developer Conference.
Video conferencing is a key app for the RIM Playbook