The 2011 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is underway in Las Vegas, and Research In Motion's (RIM) upcoming BlackBerry PlayBook tablet PC is without a doubt one of the stars of show. That's largely due to the fact that RIM has never before allowed the public to handle the much-hyped tablet, though it has showed off the device to a variety of BlackBerry developers, analysts, media and other industry insiders; CES is the first place that gadget geeks got to go "hands-on" with the PlayBook.
The BlackBerry PlayBook is not just for business users; according to RIM representatives on hand at the company's CES BlackBerry booth, the PlayBook is for "anyone who wants or needs to get down to business," consumers and enterprise users alike. But RIM definitely designed the tablet to address the needs of business users'and the IT support staffers who'll manage PlayBook use in the enterprise.
I sat down with RIM's Sr. PlayBook Product Manager Ryan Bidan at CES for specifics on what RIM's tablet means to IT and BlackBerry administrators. The following list includes details on how PlayBook users will access corporate BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) resources and why managing PlayBook tablets will be easier than comparable devices, like Apple's mega-popular iPad. Keep moving for details.
1) BlackBerry PlayBook Doesn't Connect Directly to BES
The PlayBook does not connect directly to a corporate BES, like a BlackBerry smartphone, according to Bidan. Instead, it uses a RIM smartphone as a "BlackBerry Bridge" to access BES mail, calendar, contacts, users' BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) IM clients and more. (Check out a video from CES that demonstrates some aspects of the BlackBerry PlayBook/smartphone relationship.)
"The PlayBook is not a managed device," Bidan says.
BlackBerry administrators supporting users with PlayBooks won't have to manage an entirely new device; those admins will be able to use new, PlayBook-specific IT policies within BES, via a BES-connected smartphone, to manage things like how long corporate data can be cached on the PlayBook; password enforcement; and whether or not certain users can connect to BES resources via PlayBook at all.
This PlayBook/BlackBerry smartphone relationship should make managing the BlackBerry tablet easier than managing tablets from RIM competitors like Apple and Samsung, since the process won't be much different than managing existing BlackBerry smartphone deployments, according to Bidan.
2) PlayBook Connects to BlackBerry Smartphones via Secure Bluetooth Link
BlackBerry PlayBook users will connect their tablets to BlackBerry smartphones using a secure Bluetooth connection. The PlayBook/smartphone pairing process is very similar to how BlackBerry smartphones currently link to RIM's secure smart card reader, according to Shelly Sofer, RIM's PR director. (Read more about the BlackBerry Smart Card Reader here.)
3) First PlayBook is Wi-Fi Only; No New Data Plan Required
The initial version of RIM's PlayBook tablet, which is slated for release before the end of March, will be Wi-Fi only, meaning it won't have any sort of cellular radio for wireless connectivity. This isn't exactly ideal, since the PlayBook won't be able to access cellular networks on its own. But the lack of a cellular radio could actually be a good thing for IT, since it means that no additional PlayBook data plan is required.
RIM has stated that PlayBooks with cellular radios will become available in the future, and Sprint this week said it would offer a 4G, WiMax version of the PlayBook this summer.
4) BlackBerry PlayBook Battery Should Last a Full Day
Despite recent rumors about BlackBerry PlayBook battery-life issues, Bidan says RIM's tablet will have "sufficient" battery life. And its 5300mAh battery pack should last a full-day on a single charge with moderate-to-heavy use, he says.
"It's a BlackBerry," Bidan says. "We're known for great battery life."
5) BlackBerry PlayBook Available in 16GB, 32GB and 64GB Versions
Bidan confirmed that the initial version of the PlayBook will be available with 16GB, 32GB and 64GB of internal storage. Contrary to earlier rumors, RIM will not ship an 8GB PlayBook.
RIM's Co-CEO Jim Balsillie reportedly told Bloomberg back in November that a sub-$500 version of the PlayBook will become available, and if that report is accurate, it's presumably the 16GB version that will retail for less than $500.
The fact that the tablet will be available with three different storage capacities is a good thing for IT, since it gives them more options for different types of enterprise users.
Read more about the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet on RIM's website. And read my list of Ten Things Everyone Should Know About the PlayBook.