Organizations that have been waiting for a secure business-oriented tablet computer to arrive will have to sit on their hands for a few more weeks.

Research In Motion said Tuesday its 7-in. PlayBook tablet will be carried by eight Canadian carriers, and while it didn’t give a launch date Best Buy Canada said the Wi-Fi version, which starts at $499, will be available in its stores April 19.

There is no word on when PlayBook cellular versions will be available here.

But some industry experts wonder if RIM has taken too long to push Apple Inc,’s iPad out of the office.

“It would have been great [to have been on the market] six months ago,” Mark Tauschuk, research director of London, Ont.-based Info-Tech Research said in an interview. But the 12 month lead in tablets built up by the bigger iPad will be hard to overcome.

PlayBook’s advantages for some organizations will be its smaller size, Tauschuk said, which makes it pocketable (for those with large pockets) and handy for applications like filling in forms.

If rumours are true, PlayBook will also run applications built for the Android mobile operating system, opening the opportunity for users to access thousands of apps. However, because the tablet isn’t out yet no one knows how these apps run in emulation mode.

Disadvantages include its size compared to the 9-inch screen of the iPad and Motorola’s 10-inch Android-based Xoom (also coming next month)  for graphics-heavy tasks, a Wi-Fi PlayBook has to be tethered to a BlackBerry for secure wireless connectivity, and PlayBook runs on the new QNX operating system which is unfamiliar to users and application developers.

“It’s a real tough game to get in right now, and you’ve got to have something really compelling to compete,” Tauschuk said. PlayBook is “pretty darn compelling,” he added, but its cause would have been helped with earlier availability.

Security is PlayBook’s high card, Tauschuk acknowledged, “but we’re hitting one of those inflection points where it doesn’t matter much.”

On the other hand, Tauschuk admits that other major competitors that haven’t launched aren’t in any better shape, including Xoom, Cisco System Inc.’s Cius, Avaya Inc.’s Desktop Video Device and Hewlett-Packard Co.’s TouchPad.

The number of organizations that need the kind of security offered through BlackBerry Enterprise Server are “few and far between,” he added.

However, Forrester Research collaboration analyst Ted Schadler said there are many regulated organizations in the financial, health care, pharmaceutical and defence industries that have banned iPads and Android-based tablets like Samsung’s Galaxy Tab because they need BlackBerry-type security.He believes these organizations will eagerly buy PlayBooks.
Similarly, Krista Napier, IDC Canada’s senior analyst for digital media and emerging technologies, notes that RIM has a large base of business customers which makes the company well placed to sell PlayBook. “There’s definately opportunity for them to tailor a product to the needs of the business market,” she said.

Kris Thompson, an analyst with Montreal-based National Bank Financial, predicts in a research note that RIM will sell just under 500,000 PlayBooks by the end of May. Of those 350,000 will go to enterprises. By the end of the year PlayBook will have seven per cent of the worldwide tablet market, he said. NBF expect RIM to ship 3.6

million units next year and 6.2 million units in 2013.

On the other hand that pales beside the expected 40 million iPads to ship this year.

Iain Grant, managing director of the Montreal-based SeaBoard Group telecommunications consultancy, believes iPad’s popularity has erased the concept of business-level mobile devices for mainstream applications.

“The availability of many standard business applications on a pro-sumer device suggests to us that the compromises for business to use a consumer device are few, but the benefits of using a unit that so delights their users that adoption and acceptance are high,” he wrote in an email.

RIM said PlayBook will be available through 20,000 North American retailers and wireless carriers.

Suggested retail prices are $499 for the 16 GB storage model, $599 for the 32 GB model and $699 for the 64 GB model

Telus Corp. spokesman A.J. Gratton said the Vancouver-based carrier had no comment on PlayBook pricing or availability.

Neither Rogers Communications Inc. nor BCE Inc.’s Bell Mobility replied to questions by press time.

Meanwhile Motorola Canada announced that its 10-in Xoom tablet will be available in Canada at an unspecified date next month. So far Telus is the only carrier signed up to carry the Wi-Fi version. The cellular versions of Xoom won’t be ready for sale until later in the year.

In addition, unified communications vendor Polycom Inc. announced it has a deal to include its Telepresence m500 client on Xoom tablets. The app is also coming for the Samsung Galaxy Tab.

The app will let Xoom users videoconference with each other, said Jim Kruger, Polycom’s vice-president of solutions marketing. A business version of the app will connect to enterprises using Polycom’s UC platform.

Eventually, he said, it will connect to other standards-based platforms.

The deal is not exclusive and Polycom is looking at arrangements with other mobile platforms including PlayBook and iPad, he added.

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