RIM introduces BlackBerry PlayBook tablet (live blog)

BlackBerry maker opens its annual developer conference in San Francisco by introducing its PlayBook, which it calls the first professional tablet.

Erica Ogg Former Staff writer, CNET News
Erica Ogg is a CNET News reporter who covers Apple, HP, Dell, and other PC makers, as well as the consumer electronics industry. She's also one of the hosts of CNET News' Daily Podcast. In her non-work life, she's a history geek, a loyal Dodgers fan, and a mac-and-cheese connoisseur.
Erica Ogg
14 min read
RIM president and co-CEO Mike Lazaridis introduces BlackBerry PlayBook. James Martin/CNET

Editor's note: We used Cover It Live for this event, so if you missed the live blog, you can still replay it in the embedded component below. Replaying the event will give you all the live updates along with commentary from our readers and CNET editors Donald Bell, Jessica Dolcourt, Nicole Lee, and Josh Lowensohn. For those of you who just want the updates, we've included them in regular text here. To get the key points from today's announcement, you can check out our summary of what got announced, in our story here. We've also embedded a short video clip of the PlayBook's introduction.

Watch this: RIM unveils BlackBerry PlayBook

SAN FRANCISCO--A developer conference can be kind of a snooze for non-programmer folks, but Research In Motion had some rather interesting news to reveal today. After a smattering of reports of an impending BlackBerry tablet hit this spring and summer, RIM took the opportunity during its keynote address at RIM DevCon to show off the BlackBerry PlayBook, which it calls the first professional tablet.

Transcript of live blog starts here:

12:53 p.m. PDT: Hi, everyone! Thanks for joining us. We're inside Moscone West just waiting for the keynote to get started. I'm with CNET's Jessica Dolcourt, Donald Bell, and Nicole Lee, who will be helping me provide your live commentary for the next few hours (along with photos from James Martin). We should begin in about 10 minutes.

Attendees settle into their seats for RIM's Monday keynote address.
Attendees settle into their seats for RIM's Monday keynote address. James Martin/CNET

12:53 p.m.: (from Jessica Dolcourt) @ reader TomK, the keynote is scheduled for 1:00 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. PDT.

12:53 p.m.: (from Josh Lowensohn) I hope you guys brought snacks.

12:56 p.m.: @Josh we just finished lunch, so we should be good to go.

12:57 p.m.: (from Donald Bell) Life in the "Blogger Pit" is pretty sweet, actually. The free sandwich rocked. I've got two sodas ready to counteract the food coma.

12:57 p.m.: (from Jessica Dolcourt) This is a developer conference, so we know for sure they're discussing software and services that will help developers build better apps. Social apps are a big part of that. Here's our preview post that spells out the expected announcements in greater detail: http://www.cnet.com/8301-17918_1-20016836-85.html

The "BlackPad" tablet is still up in the air...but we can hope.

1:01 p.m.: (from Donald Bell) With 2.5 hours ahead of us, I'm hoping they announce an outline for world peace and an end to global warming. Seriously, 2.5 hours?

Team CNET: Nicole Lee, Donald Bell, Erica Ogg, and Jessica Dolcourt (from left to right).
Team CNET: Nicole Lee, Donald Bell, Erica Ogg, and Jessica Dolcourt (from left to right). James Martin/CNET

1:03 p.m.: OK, they've asked us to "silence our BlackBerrys." We're about to begin.

1:07 p.m.: (from reader Jebus) How's the music?

1:09 p.m.: (from Donald Bell) So far there's been an odd mix of dub reggae and lame pop music playing over the speakers. The dramatic lighting helps, though.

1:10 p.m.: (from Josh Lowensohn) It looks like you guys are in an airplane that keeps doing barrel rolls in the late afternoon sunlight.

1:16 p.m.: OK, here we go. President and co-CEO Mike Lazaridis takes the stage.

RIM president and co-CEO Mike Lazaridis.
RIM president and co-CEO Mike Lazaridis. James Martin/CNET

1:17 p.m.: He says he's going to start off talking about BlackBerry's success, then something he will share that he's "been saving specifically for DevCon."

1:18 p.m.: There are 50 million subscribers worldwide, 115 million BlackBerrys sold, 12 million in the last quarter alone, Lazaridis says.

1:20 p.m.: BlackBerry is the No. 1 smartphone in the U.S., U.K., Canada, Mexico, and other countries. There are 250,000 BlackBerry Enterprise Servers being actively used, 28 million active users of BlackBerry Messenger. And there are 300,000 registered BlackBerry developers worldwide.

Now he's talking up the BlackBerry Messenger Social Platform. BBM will be opened up as a platform for applications today.

1:21 p.m.: Developers can take the social activity in BBM and bring it to their own apps sold in App World.

1.5 million apps are downloaded from App World every day, he says.

1:22 p.m.: Today they're announcing a new in-app payment system as well as a BlackBerry Advertising service.

They're going to go into detail about both of those later today.

1:23 p.m.: There will be a new app-building platform called BlackBerry WebWorks. It's Web-based, no Java skills required, he says. Can whip up a new app in a few days or hours.

BlackBerry WebWorks
James Martin/CNET

1:26 p.m.: Laziridis mentioned that BlackBerry Messenger is opening up to become a wider social network. We got all the details here from a morning press briefing: http://www.cnet.com/8301-17918_1-20017721-85.html

1:27 p.m.: Now he's talking about the special something he promised earlier.

1:28 p.m.: It's a tablet.

1:29 p.m.: We're watching a video showing a device in action that looks like you'd expect: touch screen, with a bezel, pretty big screen, lots of video, reading apps being demonstrated.

1:29 p.m.: (from Donald Bell) So far, showing a lot of the tablet OS, but no hardware.

1:29 p.m.: (from Nicole lee) The crowd erupts in applause.

1:30 p.m.: It's called the BlackBerry PlayBook.

Research In Motion's BlackBerry PlayBook
Research In Motion's BlackBerry PlayBook James Martin/CNET

1:30 p.m.: (from Jessica Dolcourt) Flash support and business use are being emphasized.

1:30 p.m.: They're billing it as the first professional tablet.

Lazaridis has one in hand on stage now. "Everyone needs a great playbook," he says.

1:31 p.m.: A playbook keeps you focused on the day, he says. It's 9.7mm thick and "always on." 7-inch display.

1:31 p.m.: (from Jessica Dolcourt) From the looks of it, most of the apps demoed in the video use a two-pane layout that will look familiar to those familiar with the iPad.

1:31 p.m.: Will display HTML5 and Flash 10.1.

1:32 p.m.: Supports 1080p HD video with HDMI out connector for presentations, videos, and Web sites.

1:32 p.m.: (from Jessica Dolcourt) "The first time you hold it, it just feels right and you'll want to take it everywhere you go," says Co-CEO Lazaridis.

1:32 p.m.: There is a rear- and front-facing HD camera on the PlayBook.

1:33 p.m.: It's "enterprise ready," he says. Comes ready to go, compatible with your BlackBerry enterprise server. Already being controlled by your IT department. "Why send it again?" he says.

It's "an amplified view of what's already on your BlackBerry." No new software, security, data plan needed, he says.

1:34 p.m.: (from Donald Bell) So far, I'm impressed, but I have my doubts something like this will have an all-day battery life.

1:34 p.m.: It will also have a 1Ghz dual core processor and 1GB RAM.

1:34 p.m.: (from Jessica Dolcourt) The no new data plan requirement is a win.

1:34 p.m.: Founder of QNX and inventor of new BlackBerry tablet OS Dan Dodge takes the stage.

1:36 p.m.: What is QNX? It's designed with symmetric multiprocessing for multitasking. It will "enable things you've never seen before."

1:37 p.m.: Everybody here is probably using QNX, he says. It's in medical, industrial, military, and automotive industries right now. Cisco and GE use it, so does the U.S. military.

1:39 p.m.: (from Donald Bell) How long can Dan dodge the battery life question?

1:39 p.m.: Dodge is talking about other applications his software powers: cars, Vegas show productions, etc.

1:40 p.m.: "You don't build a skyscraper on a house foundation," Lazaridis says. Which is why they are using QNX's system to power the PlayBook.

QNX has been building the BlackBerry tablet OS for the past year, he says. Which is interesting since RIM didn't buy them til this past spring.

1:41 p.m.: A native SDK will be coming soon, Dodge says. OpenGL support comes with it, as a gaming platform.

BlackBerry PlayBook
BlackBerry PlayBook James Martin/CNET

1:41 p.m.: (from Jessica Dolcourt) Here's the promo video we saw a few minutes ago: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eAaez_4m9mQ

1:42 p.m.: Full Web experience. HTML5, an "incredibly performing" Flash 10.1 with full video acceleration, Dodge says. Adobe AIR included too. QNX and Adobe work very closely together, he says.

1:43 p.m.: (from Donald Bell) The PlayBook desktop screen reminds me of Palm WebOS.

1:43 p.m.: Dodge's time is up. Next up joining Lazaridis is the CEO of Adobe, Shantanu Narayen.

1:44 p.m.: Narayen says they're excited to be a part of this announcement. "It really is about how can you get the uncompromised Web experience" with security, and a great device, he says.

"We'd love for the 3 million Flash developers to be a part of your platform," Narayen says.

1:45 p.m.: A press release just issued by RIM says the PlayBook won't be out until early 2011.

They're giving developers a sneak peek later, Lazaridis says.

1:46 p.m.: Lazaridis is finished for today. CTO David Yach is up now.

1:47 p.m.: What Lazaridis didn't cover while he was here: price, availability, and how this device is connected to the Web.

1:48 p.m.: (from Donald Bell) I wonder how they've solved the issue of using Web-based Flash games and apps with a touch-screen interface. I hope it's not the JooJoo solution of using multifinger gestures.

1:49 p.m.: Yach is going to talk about BlackBerry apps. First up: Super Apps. They define those as apps where you use them and don't know you're multitasking. When users can launch an app without having to go to the homescreen.

SuperApps James Martin/CNET

1:50 p.m.: Now they're talking about a SuperApp developer challenge for BlackBerry devs.

1:53 p.m.: They're showing Phone Halo. Attach a Bluetooth dongle to your keys, it's always connected to your BlackBerry. So you can use the BlackBerry to find your keys, or use your keys to find your BlackBerry. Can also notify other people of their location. It's a SuperApp because it has social integration, SMS, and is location-based.

1:54 p.m.: They're showing us a brief video about SuperApps. They're using the analogy of a regular person versus a super hero to describe apps versus Super Apps.

1:55 p.m.: There will be "think tanks" for companies and developers to meet up to discuss how to make SuperApps.

1:56 p.m.: (from Jessica Dolcourt) The Web site for the BlackBerry PlayBook is up. Check it out: http://na.blackberry.com/eng/

1:57 p.m.: Next topic: the BBM Social Platform. When an app goes viral you can get your customers to be your best salespeople, Yach says. That's the aim of integrating the BBM social platform.

1:58 p.m.: It's available on devices running OS 4.1 and above.

BlackBerry Messenger social platform
James Martin/CNET

Chris Smith, senior director of the BlackBerry Development Platform comes to the stage. He's going to talk about embedded chat in BlackBerry apps.

Chris Smith
James Martin/CNET

1:59 p.m.: Inside a sports app, for instance, you can do "real-time trash talking."

Developers can customize the chat to match their own app.

2:00 p.m.: The person you're chatting with doesn't have to be in the same app as you to get your chats.

There's also the ability to share content between BBM users. Can be a real-time stream, turns in a game, URLs, etc.

2:00 p.m.: (from Nicole Lee) The official press release for the BlackBerry PlayBook and the tablet OS: http://www.marketwire.com/press-release/RIM-Unveils-The-BlackBerry-PlayBook-NASDAQ-RIMM-1325727.htm

2:01 p.m.: (from Jessica Dolcourt) BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) is one of BlackBerry's undersung services. It handles realtime peer-to-peer communications and data pushing. This expansion of it now helps explain why RIM has been pushing it so hard in international ad campaigns.

2:02 p.m.: With the BBM platform, devs can allow users to create groups right from within an app and invite others.

2:04 p.m.: Smith is going to show off some code now. He calls it "approachable and easy to use."

2:05 p.m.: (File that under something you'd never see at an Apple developer conference keynote.)

2:06 p.m.: Smith is actually showing this to us on a Mac though. He says you can use their tools on the Mac OS now.

Says they wanted to "meet developers on their terms."

2:07 p.m.: Kobo Books is demoing their app now. They're the company Borders uses for e-books in the U.S.

2:08 p.m.: (from reader Stan) Can people ASK questions there??? LOVE LOVE to know if this can be used as a cell phone and what carrier!!

2:08 p.m.: (from Josh Lowensohn) @Stan, this first version is NOT shipping with a 3G or 4G antenna built-in.

2:10 p.m.: (from reader Steve) how do you know first version not shipping with antenna?

2:10 p.m.: (from Josh Lowensohn) From the press release: "RIM intends to also offer 3G and 4G models in the future."

2:11 p.m.: Kobo has integrated BBM into the reading experience: can chat with friends and buy books from within the app.

2:11 p.m.: (from Nicole Lee) Too bad BBM is a closed platform.

2:13 p.m.: (from Jessica Dolcourt) BBM is like the iPhone's Facetime service in its exclusivity--except it works for most BlackBerrys, not just a couple of devices, unlike Facetime. And this closed environment could work both for and against RIM in the same way.

2:14 p.m.: Next up: SVP of software for RIM, Jeff Jackson. He's talking about BlackBerry OS 6's WebWorks application platform. They took Webkit and BlackBerry Widgets Platform, made a few tweaks, and came up with this.

2:16 p.m.: Any developer can access the same APIs that Java developers use, he says.

2:17 p.m.: He's talking advanced standards like WebKit, HTML5, CSS3, JavaScript, SVG.

BlackBerry WebWorks
BlackBerry WebWorks James Martin/CNET

2:19 p.m.: CEO of TouMetis is going to talk about how they're using it in their apps for financial services and medical industries.

2:20 p.m.: He's showing a medical app that displays patient data for orthopedic surgeons where they can design, for example, new knee replacements for patients right from a BlackBerry or the PlayBook. All written in JavaScript.

2:20 p.m.: (from reader Nate) Will the Playbook run BB App World Apps?

2:20 p.m.: (from Nicole Lee) @Nate: Yes, the PlayBook should be compatible with BB App World Apps.

2:20 p.m.: (from Donald Bell) On the upside, a Wi-Fi-only version of the PlayBook tablet hopefully means no contracts. The Samsung Galaxy Tab, by contrast, is only coming in a 3G-enabled version, and only through carriers.

2:24 p.m.: Henry Belmont from MLB.com is going to talk about the interface design on their apps.

2:24 p.m.: (from Josh Lowensohn) You guys seem to think $300-$400, eh? Wishful thinking. :)

2:26 p.m.: On BlackBerry 6, MLB's app is now a Super App. On scoreboard page, it updates in real time. So do GameDay, game summaries, scoring plays, and box scores. With WebWorks they included push notifications that will alert a user when a game starts, for example.

2:28 p.m.: Obviously baseball's almost over, so users won't get this new version til next season.

2:28 p.m.: (from reader ChrisC) No mention of storage space size on playbook?

2:28 p.m.: (from Josh Lowensohn) Nice catch, Chris.

2:29 p.m.: RIM's dipping its toes into the open-source world. They have open-sourced components from the platform on GitHub now.

James Martin/CNET

2:30 p.m.: Abe Elias from Sencha is here to discuss their JavaScript framework.

2:31 p.m.: (from Nicole Lee) http://water.sencha.com/ Here's the Web site he demoed.

2:34 p.m.: They're talking more about developer tools, APIs, and the expanding platform.

2:36 p.m.: David Yach is back to talk about how devs can make money with their apps.

2:37 p.m.: Actually, he's going to hand off to Tyler Lessard, who heads RIM's developer relations, to talk about that. RIM is taking a "developer-centered approach" as they build out their platform and services.

2:38 p.m.: 18 months ago they launched App World, their app store. 1.5 million apps downloaded a day. 75 percent of those are coming from users running OS 5 and above. That means devs can focus on those platforms instead of older versions.

2:40 p.m.: Now they're waiving fees to register as a vendor, and free to submit apps and upgrades, he says.

Tyler Lessard
Tyler Lessard James Martin/CNET

The new BlackBerry payment service SDK is now available on their site. You can do in-app payments with just five lines of code, he says.

2:41 p.m.: BlackBerry advertising service is now available for developers, Lessard says.

2:43 p.m.: Their "unique" approach is to be flexible and global. Will be easy for developers to use ("one line of code"), he says.

Ad networks can plug into the platform too. Developers can control how the service is used. Can choose which networks you use, or let the advertising service automatically bring the ad that will bring you the most revenue. Devs get a 60 percent share of revenue.

BlackBerry app development
James Martin/CNET

2:46 p.m.: Matt Gillis, SVP of business development of Millennial Media is talking about ad networks on BlackBerry advertising service. If you don't have a strategy that includes mobile advertising, you should, he tells developers in the audience.

2:47 p.m.: (from Nicole Lee) Amazon has announced a free Kindle app that will work with the BlackBerry PlayBook: http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20100927006835/en/Amazon-Launch-Kindle-App-BlackBerry-PlayBook-Tablet

2:47 p.m.: "This is a multibillion-dollar opportunity," he says. Users are flocking to mobile devices, and advertisers want mobile users as an audience.

2:51 p.m.: Peter Werry, mobile lead for Java at Poynt, which is a longtime BlackBerry app maker, is talking about how they use advertising in their apps.

2:54 p.m.: Werry is telling devs how easy it is to use the BlackBerry advertising service. He says you can target a broad audience, or a very narrow one. He says "I swear, it really is just one line of code."

2:55 p.m.: One more service RIM has for developers is up next.

"Any app can be an everyday app that people use," Lessard says. You have to know how people are using the app, how they got to it, whether they recommend it to a friend though.

2:56 p.m.: To enable that, RIM is launching a BlackBerry Analytic Service for developers.

Devs can see how, when, where their apps are being used. Embeddable in Java and Web apps, will make detailed reports in partnership with WebTrends, an analytic service.

2:58 p.m.: WebTrends' CEO is talking about how their analytic service works.

3:01 p.m.: Developers can also get Facebook analytics, or data from other sites to see how customers are interacting with their app.

3:02 p.m.: (from Jessica Dolcourt) The built-in analytics service is a great tool for developers, and speaks to criticism that BlackBerry apps aren't as numerous or as good as those for other mobile platforms.

3:04 p.m.: The analytics service is available for free for all BlackBerry developers.

3:07 p.m.: Next speaker, Alan Brenner, SVP of BlackBerry Platform, is talking about RIM's enterprise platform.

3:08 p.m.: There are 250,000 BlackBerry Enterprise Servers worldwide.

3:11 p.m.: He's catching us up on the recent releases from RIM for BES.

3:13 p.m.: (from Jessica Dolcourt) Later on this week, we'll get a look at RIM's new Theme Builder 6, which will let BB owners personalize BlackBerrys running OS 6.

3:15 p.m.: IBM and ING Direct are now on stage to talk about how they use BES.

3:16 p.m.: (from reader Curious) The 2+ hours is really moving along. Thanks to you people for attending and giving us the low down.

3:17 p.m.: (from Josh Lowensohn) We're in the home stretch Curious.

3:20 p.m.: (from reader rene) any hints at new bb devices using the new playbook OS?

3:20 p.m.: @rene they're calling it the BlackBerry Tablet OS, so it sounds like it's focused on the Playbook right now.

3:20 p.m.: (from Nicole Lee) The early 2011 release for the PlayBook is unfortunate. Not only does RIM lose out on the holiday crowd, the PlayBook might get overshadowed by the next generation of tablets announced at CES and a possible Apple announcement of the next iPad.

3:21 p.m.: SAP is out now to talk about their experience using the BB platform too.

3:24 p.m.: SAP guy shows us some code too. "I know you guys would be really disappointed if I didn't show you some code."

3:26 p.m.: Oracle is now going to talk about how they use their BlackBerry Server.

3:28 p.m.: They're demoing how to file an insurance claim using Oracle's platform on the go.

3:35 p.m.: OK, things are wrapping up here. Yach is back reviewing what we heard today.

3:37 p.m.: OK, and we're done. Thanks for hanging in there with us, folks.

3:38 p.m.: We'll get some quick hands-on time with the demo versions of the PlayBook and post our thoughts, plus analysis of this afternoon's announcements.

Editor's note: The original, bare-bones version of this story first published September 24 at 3:20 p.m.