RIM's BlackPad Could Be the iPad's Biggest Rival This Holiday


UPDATE: BNet Wired In contributor Erik Sherman confirms the new tablet is called the PlayBook.

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The Wall Street Journal says Research In Motion's (RIMM) iPad rival, codenamed BlackPad, will be out this fall and announced as soon as next week. Going against the Apple's (APPL) 4 million strong iPad seems like a suicide mission, but with smart planning, the 7-inch BlackPad tablet can exploit the iPad's biggest weaknesses.

According to the WSJ's Phred Dvorak and Ting-I Tsai, the BlackPad will get online two different ways:

  • Via a wi-fi connection
  • Via Blackberry tethering
The wi-fi connection is equal to the basic iPad. However, the BlackPad tethering allows BlackBerry customers to take advantage of their current cell phone plans.

The BlackPad tethering provides two advantages over the 3G-enabled iPad. First, RIM is giving current customers incentive to stick with the BlackBerry brand. Lifelong AT&T/Cingular (ATT) customers received no discount on the iPad, nor can they currently use their iPhones to get their iPads on the cellular network. RIM has the opportunity to make the BlackPad feel like a natural extension of the Blackberry phones as opposed to an independent entity with its own set of fees.

Second, RIM isn't tying its tablet's fate to a particular cell phone carrier. Between spotty customer service and bad phone reception, AT&T has been weighing down Apple's otherwise spectacular run with the iPhone and may have slowed sales of the 3G iPad. The BlackPad tethering option leaves the carrier choice up to the user's Blackberry preference.

The market is also pining for variety -- as in a solid tablet option that's not the same iPad tablet that's been out since April. The Dell (DELL) Streak has gotten middling reviews and, as BNET Digital Daily contributor Ben Popper noted, also opted to use AT&T as its wireless companion. Worse, its tiny 5-inch screen and phone capabilities make it either an awkward cell phone or an undersized tablet. The upcoming, Android-driven Samsung Galaxy Tab has gotten some good press, but, to quote Google itself, the current Android operation system is not ready for tablets.

According to the WSJ, RIM is using a whole new operating system from QNX, a software company it recently acquired. The QNX platform will become the defacto Blackberry platform for all of RIMs mobile devices, which means that the BlackPad tablet will set the pace for the phones -- not the other way around. RIM has the opportunity to bring a different perspective to the tablet race, and it avoids having to shoehorn phone apps onto other devices.

Finally, the limitations of the iPad itself are becoming clear. Launching FaceTime without a built-in iPad camera, withholding multitasking from the iPad iOS, and other questionable software and hardware decisions have made the magical device seem quite flawed. Despite rumors, it's already clear that Apple won't be coming out with a new iPad until spring 2011. It is just enough time for a competitor to carve out its own audience -- and the BlackPad has a pretty good chance of being the contender.

Photo courtesy of seantoyer // CC 2.0
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