BlackBerry PlayBook Debuts, But It's Not Quite Ripe

The BlackBerry PlayBook tablet computer debuts Tuesday, and for the many folks in the corporate world already armed with BlackBerry phones, the addition of a PlayBook may make sense. But those consumers who don't already have BlackBerrys may feel shut out for the next several months.

That's because the device as currently configured must be connected to a BlackBerry phone to access important features like email, contacts and calendar. On top of that, only about 3,000 apps have been developed for the PlayBook -- a measly amount compared to the more than 65,000 apps available for Apple's (AAPL) iPad. Since the birth of the iPhone, device makers have come to realize that a sizable apps library is the secret ingredient that will prompt consumers to purchase one smartphone or tablet computer rather than another.

"Right now, BlackBerry has said it's focused on its business customer and current users," noted Stephen Baker, vice president of research firm The NPD Group. "However, they are talking about creating apps and other features that are focused for consumers."

That move, however, is not expected to materialize until this summer. Research in Motion (RIMM), maker of BlackBerry smartphones and PlayBook, plans to broaden the horizon for PlayBook apps beyond those created specifically for the PlayBook operating system. RIM plans to debut two optional "app players" that will allow apps designed for BlackBerry smartphones and Google's (GOOG) Android devices to run on the PlayBook.

For investors looking to monitor their stock portfolios, track expenses or handle their personal banking, for example, that's all good news. Currently, the BlackBerry App World has approximately 430 finance-related apps such as personal finance tool SplashMoney. But RIM can greatly widen its breath of offerings by tapping into Google's expansive Android Market, which includes such apps as by Intuit.

In addition to piggybacking on Android Market, Research in Motion is also working on developing more apps and improving its relationship with outside developers to beef up its app ecosystem, says Engadget, which rates PlayBook a 7 out of 10.

, a sister publication to DailyFinance, offers a word of caution, however:
Overall, the selection in App World and on the device itself isratherlimited at the moment. RIM is quick to point out that there are thousands of apps in the pipeline, written in some combination of Adobe AIR or HTML 5 or Java or within the PlayBook's native compilation engine. We're sure they're coming, but right now it's slim pickins.

While some potential buyers might have preferred to see Research in Motion wait to trot out its tablet until it offered users the ability to get their email, contacts and calendar information without also owning a Blackberry smartphone, and had the ability to
sync up to Google's Android Market and its own BlackBerry App World, Baker is somewhat forgiving of RIM's decision to launch its tablet nonetheless.

"The great thing with tablets, versus computers, is that tablets' operating systems are pretty simple to update," Baker says. "For most companies, they make a measured choice between waiting for a product to come out of development and getting it out into the market today."

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