Earlier this week, Research in Motion (RIM) introduced the BlackBerry Playbook electronic tablet—an obvious counter to Apple’s iPad. The initial version of the PlayBook offers a number of significant multimedia capabilities including front- and rear-facing cameras (3Mpixels and 5Mpixels respectively) and H.264-based 1080p HD video that facilitate videoconferencing plus a beefed-up Web browser with Flash 10.1 support. You can only connect the initial version of the BlackBerry PlayBook to the Internet via WiFi, models that include 3G and 4G broadband communications will reportedly appear later, but the product’s really designed to work in conjunction with a BlackBerry smartphone via Bluetooth. When used in a paired configuration, the PlayBook gives big-screen treatment to the secure apps in the BlackBerry phone, which is certain to interest corporate users. In fact, RIM’s marketing includes the phrase “CIO and enterprise ready,” which telegraphs the market of interest.
There are many interesting system-level design decisions in the BlackBerry PlayBook, starting with the decision to provide two built-in video cameras with a pair of 1GHz ARM Cortex-A9 processors and 1Gbyte of RAM to run the apps. Unsurprisingly, RIM chose to use an OS from QNX rather than the current momentum leader—Google’s Android. The lack of surprise is because RIM bought Canadian RTOS vendor QNX last April. However, these choices are tempered with the obvious desire to make the PlayBook a “BlackBerry Helper.” Even so, RIM’s site says that the company is “extremely excited” to be introducing a new applications platform to the market although the BlackBerry tablet OS currently ranks ninth on the list of mobile platform priorities according to a recent survey of app developers, trailing Apple’s iPhone and iPad OSes, Android in phone and tablet form, the BlackBerry phone platform, Windows Phone 7, and HP’s webOS in phone and tablet form. (See “System Design: It’s all about the apps say 2363 surveyed developers”.) All of these decisions have shaped the design of the BlackBerry PlayBook to a greater or lesser extent.