Last Updated: Tue Apr 26, 2011 19:11 pm (KSA) 16:11 pm (GMT)

Like everyone else, Arab techies await a new challenge to the iPad: Enter BlackBerry’s PlayBook

The new PlayBook tablet from BlackBerry is expected to take the tablet market by storm. (File photo)
The new PlayBook tablet from BlackBerry is expected to take the tablet market by storm. (File photo)

The iPad may have had a year’s head start, but the new PlayBook tablet from BlackBerry is expected to take the tablet market by storm. The new tablet is due to arrive in the United Arab Emirates in June after it went on sale last week in the US and Canada. It has been described by Research In Motion (RIM), the company behind the Blackberry product line, as the world’s “first professional-grade tablet.”

The rectangular device weighs less than a pound and is less than a half-inch thick, making it smaller than Apple’s iPad. It has a 7” LCD high-resolution touch screen and buyers can choose from models with 16GB, 32GB or 64GB of storage. A PlayBook currently retails in the US for about $500.

Manufacturers promise that the PlayBook is the tablet “you’ll want to take everywhere.”

At its heart, the PlayBook allows several functions to run at once, a multitasking feature fueled by a 1 GHz dual-core processor and a new BlackBerry Tablet operating system. Touching and swiping the screen the screen enables the user to browse the web and use applications. It only has buttons on the edge of the device for power, volume and play/pause.

The PlayBook’s technology allows the user to view and send e-mails via a BlackBerry smartphone, from its email accounts, although email is not delivered directly to the PlayBook. Email can be accessed through email sites such as Gmail and Hotmail.

Unlike Apple’s iPad, it supports Adobe’s Flash standard, which gives the user access to millions of online videos and websites that are in Adobe file formats. These video formats are popularly used for television shows that are uploaded by broadcast channels on their websites.

RIM announced an ongoing investment in PlayBook through the first quarter of 2011 for its launch last week on April 19.

“Initial feedback about the BlackBerry PlayBook has been outstanding,” said Mike Lazaridis, President and Co-CEO at RIM, in a statement released to the media.

“Our strategic decision to invest in groundbreaking performance, web fidelity and an open web-based development environment is resonating extremely well with customers and developers,” he said.

BlackBerry PlayBook users who carry a BlackBerry smartphone, can pair their tablet and smartphone using a Bluetooth connection. This means they can opt to use the larger tablet display to view any of the email, BBM, calendar, tasks, documents and other content that is on (or accessible through) their smartphone.

BlackBerry was the number one selling smartphone brand in the United States, Canada, Latin America and the UK in 2010.

RIM reported positive growth in its Blackberry business so far in 2011. It logged a record 43 percent growth in Blackberry smartphone shipments of 52.3 million over 2010.

Mike al Mefleh, RIM’s regional director of product management did not dismiss talk of upcoming versions of the PlayBook. “It is not just one tablet,” he told The National in its report on Tuesday. “This is a line of product, a category we are committed to.”

But the PlayBook received criticism for lacking features such as mobile network connectivity and support for the Java programming language used by developers, according to The National.

A RIM applications (apps) shop for its PlayBook has been developed and new apps continue to be added. Commentators have said that it will take a while for it to build an App store like Apple’s, which provides users with games, restaurant finders and a whole host of other apps.

The tablet will be released in the UAE in June with Wi-Fi Internet connection only. RIM did not announce, however, when the PlayBook would be available in other Middle East and North African countries.

(Eman El-Shenawi of Al Arabiya can be reached at eman.shenawi@mbc.net)

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