RIM launches PlayBook for high-speed networks

An employee holds a Blackberry Playbook tablet at the Research in Motion (RIM) annual meeting in Waterloo, Ontario, July 12, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Dave Chidley

Research In Motion is launching its new PlayBook tablet for advanced networks that will have a faster Internet experience, giving the Canadian tech company an updated product to sell before its new smartphones come to market.

RIM's latest PlayBook will be launched next week — in Canada first — and is designed for wireless networks with speeds equivalent to high-speed home Internet services on land lines.

The 4G LTE PlayBook tablet computer will be available Aug. 9 at Rogers (TSX:RCI.B), Bell (TSX:BCE) and Telus (TSX:T) — Canada's three largest carriers.

RIM said Thursday the price of the new PlayBook, which has 32 GB of memory storage, will depend on the region and provider. But Telus said it will sell for $549.99.

The new PlayBook is also ready for corporate email systems and keeps business information secure and separate from personal information, said RIM (TSX:RIM).

However, PC Magazine analyst Sascha Segan said any anticipation is for RIM's next generation of smartphones called BlackBerry 10.

"Consumers are past the PlayBook now and they're waiting to see what happens with BlackBerry 10," said Segan, lead analyst for mobile devices.

The BlackBerry 10 smartphones, expected to be even more like mobile computers, are due out in 2013, about a year later than RIM had announced — leaving the company with an older inventory of smartphones to sell.

"RIM is in a tough spot now because it needs to keep putting out some products while it waits for BlackBerry 10. So the PlayBook LTE is a way to show that RIM can keep up with current network technologies even as it's mostly geared toward revving up for BlackBerry 10," Segan said from New York.

In addition to a faster Internet experience with LTE (Long-Term Evolution) technology, RIM's new PlayBook will give users clearer and smoother video streaming, multi-party video conferencing capabilities and fewer delays when there are multiple video game players, he said.

The original PlayBook was launched in April 2011, but sales have been slow and RIM has discounted some of the models amid stiff competition. RIM is phasing out the 16 GB PlayBook which was retailing for as little as $199 to focus on higher-end models.

Segan noted the latest PlayBook was supposed to be out last fall and was announced in February 2011.

"This is a fast moving industry and the competitive situation changes very quickly."

The PlayBook has largely been overshadowed by Apple's iPad as well as tablets from Samsung and Motorola that use Google's Android operating system. These players have all launched tablets for LTE networks, Segan said.

The new LTE PlayBook may have to contend with a smaller iPad.

RBC Capital Markets analyst Amit Daryanani said Apple could release a "mini iPad" or an updated iPad this fall priced around $300.

"The three major markets that would be addressed with an 'iPad mini' include education, gaming and reading," Daryanani said in a research note.

"The lower price points on an 'iPad Mini' (about $300 for 8GB, WiFi enabled) would allow for increased penetration rates in the budget constrained education sector. In addition, a smaller form factor iPad could be used to attack the portable gaming market and take share from Amazon Kindle," he said.

RIM said the new PlayBook has the tablet's latest operating system software and also allows users to manage messages from Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

The built-in calendar and contacts apps is integrated with social networks, providing users with information about their contacts at their fingertips.

RIM said its latest PlayBook will be available in the coming months from carriers in the U.S., Europe, South Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean.

Shares in Research In Motion closed down 16 cents, or 2.2 per cent, to $7 in trading on the Toronto Stock Exchange.