By Alexandra Burlacu | Aug 03, 2012 01:25 PM EDT
BlackBerry maker Research in Motion (RIM) announced on Thursday, Aug. 2, that it is finally launching a new PlayBook tablet, this time with built-in support for cellular networks - a vital feature its poor selling initial models lacked.
RIM said it would launch the new tablets in its home country- Canada - next week, on Aug. 9. The tablets will also "be available in the coming months" in the U.S., Europe, South Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean.
RIM introduced its PlayBook tablet last year as the first product to use the QNX operating system the company is adapting for the next generation of BlackBerry phones. The PlayBook, however, faced severe criticism at launch because it lacked some of the most basic features such as e-mail. Despite sharp price cuts and a major software upgrade, the tablet has failed to impress consumers.
So far, RIM has only sold Wi-Fi capable PlayBook tablets, which made the device less attractive to potential buyers. In order to use the Internet on the PlayBook, users would either need constant access to a Wi-Fi network or tether the device to the BlackBerry, which makes things more complicated.
The new PlayBook, however, will run on high-speed 4G LTE networks; thus, delivering faster performance. Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology has become increasingly more popular as smartphone adoption has surged and boosted demand for wireless data downloads. Carriers in North America and overseas are widely deploying LTE technology to meet increasing demands. "We're excited to bring customers the first BlackBerry PlayBook tablet with support for 4G LTE networks," said David Smith, RIM's executive vice president of mobile computing.
Apart from the LTE updates, which will automatically connect to HSPA+ when LTE is not available, the new BlackBerry PlayBook is pretty much the same as its predecessor. It comes with the same 7-inch 1024 x 600 pixel touchscreen, the same 1GHz dual-core processor, 1GB of RAM, the same 3-megapixel front camera and 5-megapixel rear camera, as well as the exact same QNX BlackBerry Tablet OS.
The 4G LTE PlayBook will come with 32GB of storage and will be available from major Canadian carriers such as BCE Inc's Bell, Rogers Communications Inc and Telus Corp. According to RIM, versions of the tablet supporting various cellular networks are expected to be available "in the coming months" from carriers in other countries.
RIM has not detailed pricing for the 4G LTE PlayBook. The original PlayBook launched with a $499 price tag for the 16GB model, $599 for the 32GB version, and $699 for the 64GB model. Shortly after, however, RIM was forced to offer a three-for-two deal and later cut the price to $299.
This time last year the PlayBook was one of the biggest players on the tablet market aside from Apple's iPad, but this year things are quite different. Exciting offerings such as Amazon's Kindle Fire, Samsung's Galaxy Tab, and now Google's Android Jelly Bean-powered Nexus 7 have heated up competition considerably, and RIM will find it far more difficult to compete now against these $199 gadgets.
RIM hopes that greater PlayBook adoption will convince developers to create more apps for the new device. The company desperately needs more apps available before the BlackBerry 10 phones hit the market. RIM has been struggling to keep up with Apple's iPhone and iPad, as well as a slew of smartphones and tablets powered by Google's Android OS.
Once an undisputed leader, the Canadian company now sees its fate relying almost entirely on the performance of its new line of BlackBerry 10 smartphones.
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