BlackBerry Maker RIM Hops On Tablet Bandwagon

NEW YORK (AP) — When Apple has a hit on its hands, expect competing devices to start rolling in.

Research in Motion Ltd., maker of BlackBerrys, said its PlayBook tablet will go on sale in North America in the first quarter of 2011 for less than $500. The least expensive iPad costs $499.

With a screen that measures 7 inches diagonally, the PlayBook is smaller than the iPad. However, it has features the iPad lacks — namely, the ability to pair the device with a BlackBerry phone. The phone's content can then be seen on the tablet's bigger screen.

The tablet also has two cameras, one of which can be used for video chatting. It also has a port, so one can connect the device to a high-definition television and watch a movie stored on the tablet.

The PlayBook wasn't intended as an iPad clone, though. It will be marketed toward larger businesses, particularly information-technology staffs buying equipment for employees. By contrast, the iPad has been marketed toward consumers, although it has found its way into businesses, too. In some cases, employees bring their own iPads to the office, expecting to get work done on them.

RIM's PlayBook is the latest tablet to get attention. Samsung Electronics Co. on Wednesday began selling its Galaxy Tab tablet, which also has a 7-inch display. It is now available through T-Mobile USA Inc. and will soon work with other U.S. phone companies, including Verizon Communications Inc., AT&T Inc. and Sprint Nextel Corp.

RIM has said that it will eventually release versions of the PlayBook that can get online over cellular 3G connections, but it has not yet announced any agreements with phone companies, nor has it said when it might sell those tablets. The ones coming first use Wi-Fi connections.