RIM enters the tablet fray

The Middle East is set to become the second market for BlackBerry PlayBook's launch.
BlackBerry's PlayBook tablet will be launched in the region next week.
BlackBerry's PlayBook tablet will be launched in the region next week.

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Research In Motion (RIM), the Canadian smart phone manufacturer, has been focusing on its tablet, smartphones and applications in the Middle East in recent months.

The latest development was the preview of the much awaited Blackberry PlayBook tablet. The PlayBook is scheduled to be launched on June 12. When launched, the Middle East will be the second market for the device after North America.

While RIM is yet to announce the retail price of the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet in the UAE, it is expected that there will be a premium of about $100 on US list prices. In the US, the 7-inch touch screen display that enables wireless linking with BlackBerry phones costs $499 for a 16 GB basic version. The 32GB and 64GB models cost $599 and $699, respectively.

According to Mike Al-Mefleh, director of product management for the Middle East, RIM, the company plans to launch different versions of the PlayBook that support 3G and 4G or LTE. “We are working with carriers in this region to see where they stand with 4G and LTE developments. By bringing these tablets to this region, we want to take advantage of the high performance networks,” he said.

One of the important features of the PlayBook that Mefleh pointed out is the bridge between the existing BlackBerry smartphone and the BlackBerry PlayBook. “The bridge functionality enables you to transfer and perform activities including BBM, email, browsing, calendar, and attachments, from your smart phone to the BlackBerry PlayBook,” he said.

“Here, nothing gets stored on the PlayBook. It is going to be cached temporarily on the PlayBook while you operate,” he added.
“Once it’s connected via Bluetooth, everything stays as it is on the smart phone. The PlayBook has come to enhance or complement the existing BlackBerry smart phone experience,” he added.

Through this same bridge functionality, businesses running BlackBerry Enterprise Software can allow their employees to securely access information found on corporate internet sites using BlackBerry PlayBook tablet.

Another important feature of the tablet is its multi-tasking capability that runs many applications in the background such as movies, accessing internet by Wi-Fi, as well as bridging with BlackBerry smartphone.

“The QNX OS tightly integrates between the hardware and software supporting Adobe Flash. This is one of the main differentiators from other playbooks in the market,” Mefleh added.

In May this year, RIM announced a new video chat application for the PlayBook tablet which allows users to place and receive video calls between PlayBook tablets over an internet connected Wi-Fi network.

This application is to be distributed to existing BlackBerry PlayBook customers through an over-the-air software update and will also be available on BlackBerry App World store.

In another development, BlackBerry signed an agreement with Microsoft to make its Bing search engine the default search and mapping application on BlackBerry devices. Bing is expected to be integrated into BlackBerry devices by this year end.

RIM also recently announced its Facebook application for PlayBook, which is optimised for the 7-inch tablet and is expected to be available on the BlackBerry App World store soon.

At the top-end of the tablet market, the PlayBook will be competing with its closest rival Apple’s iPad, which is currently the top-selling tablet in the UAE. With the recent launch of Apple iPad2, Apple has increased its share in the market.

BlackBerry apps store

Recently, RIM launched its BlackBerry App World store in Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Jordan and the UAE. Mefleh sees significant interest for the app store in the consumer market in the UAE. “We continue to develop applications that are relevant to this market and add them up on this store.

For this, we work with our alliance partners in the Middle East to help developers build local apps for our app store. RIM is in discussions with customers for the mobile application needs of this market “to bring in relevant local content in local language,” he said. Mefleh also said that he sees a huge opportunity for telcos as they can push these apps to their subscriber community.

Sanyu Kiruluta, team leader for developer relations, EMEA, RIM, said: “In terms of developer recruitment, we want developers to network to see how they can work together to push the platform forward and also help them to innovate and monetise in developing ‘super apps’ that fully leverages all the great things that are on BlackBerry.”

In April this year, BlackBerry released WebWorks which is available on both PlayBook and smartphones. “We are trying to make it easier for developers by providing them with JavaScript APIs that will enable them to develop applications in a fast manner. We really want to enhance the community spirit, and this is applicable for the Middle East as well,” said Kiruluta.

“We also have an advertising service that we provide for developers to market their apps through our store,” she added.

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