January 13, 2011, 2:08 PM — BOSTON -- With dozens of new tablets hitting the market in 2011 , Research in Motion (RIM) faces an uphill climb with its upcoming 7-in. PlayBook tablet, which will run its BlackBerry Tablet OS.
RIM showed off the device to a gathering of 50 analysts and reporters here on Thursday. But the general consensus was that Apple's iPad will continue to dominate the market through 2011-- and a second-generation iPad expected this spring will keep it on top.
However, some analysts said the PlayBook, expected to arrive in the first quarter and running only over Wi-Fi at first, stands a good chance of closing in on the iPad. Sprint Nextel last week announced at CES that it will offer a WiMax version of the PlayBook this summer. Pricing has not been announced for either version, although RIM has said it will be competitive.
Most tablets on the market run $450 to $600.
"PlayBook won't be in the top two tablets in 2011, but definitely [in] the top five," said Will Stofega, an analyst at IDC who attended the RIM event. "RIM will be second to none on security features with PlayBook."
Stofega has talked to developers who are excited about the device, partly because many of those developers have built software for corporations on BlackBerry handheld devices and they know the value of RIM to enterprise and industrial users.
The big test for RIM, according to analysts, is making it exciting to consumers as well as to the company's traditional strong base of business users. RIM leads the smartphone market in the U.S. and is second in the world, but its percentage share of the market has slipped because of the growth of Android devices and the iPhone .
Some analysts believe RIM has had mixed success with smartphones for consumers, and has relied too much on its traditional base of business customers. As a result, there's concern about how well the PlayBook can compete in the consumer market.
When asked how RIM will market the device in TV ads and elsewhere and avoid being too much of a "tweener" device between business and consumer users, one RIM official acknowledged that bridging both markets won't be easy. "That's the marketing challenge, and that's as much as I can say," said Ryan Bidan, senior product manager for PlayBook at RIM.