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RIM's Enterprise Tablet Play(book)

It was another hot Indian summer in the City by the Bay this week as codederos with a mobile-biz bent swarmed into San Francisco for the annual BlackBerry DevCon. And when I say "hot," I mean scorching sidewalks strewn with melted attendees caught between the San Francisco Marriott Marquis, where the sessions, labs and breakout sessions were held, and Moscone West, where the General Session and keynotes were presented. Not as bad as last week's Oracle OpenWorld-to-JavaOne slog, but with temps heading for triple digits, it was a bit tougher on those of us who are well-insulated and pigment-challenged.

The news from inside wasn't quite as sizzling from an enterprise developer perspective, but Research in Motion (RIM) execs offered attendees a range of toasty announcements, including new tools and platforms for building applications for their popular smartphones.

They also added "SuperApp" to our vocabulary, which RIM declared is a new class of mobile applications that offers "a seamless, integrated, contextualized, and efficient experience." Will it last? I say, no.

The headline-grabbing news, of course, was the unveiling of the company's first entry into the tablet PC market. With its 7-inch touch-screen and 9.7 mm depth, the BlackBerry PlayBook is smaller than Apple's iPad, but loaded for bear -- or rather, for business (rear- and front-facing HD cameras, 1080p HD video, HDMI and USB connectors, Bluetooth paring with your BlackBerry smartphone, enterprise server compatibility and freakin' Flash support).

RIM's prez and co-chief exec Michael Lazaridis showed off the device like a proud papa. "The first time you hold it, it just feels right, and you'll want to take it wherever you go," he told a packed auditorium.

Look, but don't touch.

RIM gets marketing points for avoiding the rumored and hideous "BlackBook" moniker. And the slogan "BlackBerry amplified" nicely preserves the business context of the device, and conveys rather accurately what you're getting with it.

Attendees were offered "hands-on time" with the devices, and many of us --lots and lots of us, in fact -- stood in a long, snaking, wrap-around line on the top floor of the conference center only to end up staring at a cluster of PlayBooks displayed under glass. We could look, but not touch. (I flashed back to my senior prom.) But what I saw, I liked.

Enterprise developers might want to pay attention to this little tablet. There are signs that the PlayBook might be the one to make the leap from consumer curiosity to serious business tool. Cisco Systems likes it. Steve Slattery, VP and GM of the company's Unified Communications group, said that he expects it to do well in the enterprise. And IDC analyst Al Hilwa told me that he sees the tablet as a competitive business offering, because it "leverages the Adobe Flash eco-system for an instant portfolio of rich Web sites and applications" that "makes a credible entry into corporate boardrooms with Blackberry's formidable enterprise assets."

Posted by John K. Waters on September 30, 2010