BlackBerry PlayBook: iPad Rival or Rookie Mistake?

Research in Motion (s rimm) finally unveiled its much-rumored BlackBerry tablet yesterday, and it looks a lot more impressive at first glance than the company’s most recent handset, the Palm (s palm) Pre-like Torch. But is this a game-changing device, or will it stumble out of the starting gate?

The Business of Play

First, note that even RIM is reluctant to frame the device as a direct iPad competitor. The press release for the PlayBook emphasizes its business appeal, citing “advanced security features, out-of-the-box enterprise support” and a brand new development platform aimed at IT departments. BlackBerry knows where its real strength lies, and it seems to know to avoid Apple’s, too.

RIM didn’t create the PlayBook to storm the consumer market. It did it because it had to, or face losing enterprise customers to iOS. Since a tablet is definitely useful in a business setting, people are already buying iPads for enterprise purposes, basically because they don’t have a choice. It’s probably true that most would prefer a BlackBerry option, so that’s what RIM’s providing. That also accounts for the timing of the announcement. RIM showed its hand early, but it’ll stop some businesses from making an IT buying decision until it can bring a device to market.

Early to Rise, Early to Bed

RIM may be retaining some customers on the enterprise side by announcing early, but it definitely isn’t doing itself any favors in the consumer market. First, Apple (s aapl) and other competitors know exactly what’s coming in six or so months, making it very easy to plan product updates that surpass the PlayBook’s hardware specs. Second, savvy consumers can tell that the PlayBook’s specs are on par with the iPad now, and perhaps beat it in some areas, but they also know Apple updates its devices at least yearly.

That means consumers are expecting an iPad with Retina Display and probably at least a front-facing camera with FaceTime at around the time the PlayBook arrives. The iPad revision’s upgrades will probably make the BlackBerry look decidedly last-gen.

The App Lead

Even if the BlackBerry PlayBook launches with a terrific development framework, and App World gets a significant update that makes it much more appealing to users, Apple’s lead in the app game is basically insurmountable at this point. That’s bad news for RIM’s hopes in both the consumer and the enterprise arena.

Forced to Follow

So is the PlayBook revolutionary? No, it’s a bitter pill RIM CEO Lazardis and Co. were forced to swallow, and it’s being rushed to market to defend a market segment that’s traditionally belonged to the BlackBerry maker. But RIM will continue to succeed in business, for the same reasons that it always has.

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