RIM unveils 'enterprise ready' tablet

BlackBerry maker's 'Playbook', aimed at businesses, won't be available until Q1 2011

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In corner offices across America, let the drooling commence.

Research in Motion Ltd., the company that gave the corporate world the BlackBerry, on Monday unveiled its entry into the growing tablet market.

Like the BlackBerry, the new PlayBook is aimed squarely at business users. With a 7-inch screen, the PlayBook is smaller than Apple's iPad, which launched only five months ago and already has spurred a number of competitors.

Figuring (rightly so) that customers who buy PlayBooks already own BlackBerrys, RIM has shrewdly configured the devices to work together. As the Associated Press's Andrew Vanacore explains:

The PlayBook will be able to act as a second, larger screen for a BlackBerry phone, through a secure short-range wireless link. When the connection is severed - perhaps because the user walks away with the phone - no sensitive data like company e-mails are left on the tablet. Outside of Wi-Fi range, it will be able to pick up cellular service to access the Web by linking to a BlackBerry.

However, the PlayBook also will be able to operate on its own. According to RIM co-CEO Jim Balsillie, the new tablet can handle a range of web-related functions, including the ability to display Flash-driven video, something Apple's mobile devices lack. Balsillie said this means users don't have to download third-party applications for many functions. As AP quotes Balsillie:

"Much of the market has been defined in terms of how you fit the Web to mobility. What we're launching is really the first mobile product that is designed to give full Web fidelity."

PlayBook will run on a new operating system created by QNX Software Systems and is expected to debut in the U.S. early next year.

IDC forecasts that a growing percentage of tablet sales will come from enterprise customers in the next few years as the devices move from the early-adopter, novelty phase.

RIM (NASDAQ: RIMM) rose 56 cents to 48.92 early in after-hours trading. Shares closed at 48.36 during Monday's regular session.

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