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BlackBerry 10 won't be PlayBook redux. Here's why

commentary Research In Motion's next-generation operating system may have more than its fair share of challenges, but it doesn't face the same problems as the ill-fated tablet.

The BlackBerry PlayBook could see an OS upgrade next week.
The PlayBook was a flop, but that doesn't mean BlackBerry 10 has to be one too.
James Martin/CNET

Research In Motion's BlackBerry 10 is no PlayBook, and that's a good thing.

There's concern that RIM's next-generation smartphone operating system may fall flat on its launch, an expectation driven largely by the example of the company's critically lambasted tablet. AllThingsD, citing an analyst from Wedge Partners, says the same issues that hamstrung PlayBook sales will hurt BlackBerry 10's prospects as well.

The comparison is an easy one to make, but I don't buy it.

Of course, RIM and BlackBerry 10 face more than their fair share of challenges, and it remains to be seen whether the new operating system will resonate with consumers. But there are a lot of differences between its upcoming launch in January and the PlayBook launch last year, and RIM hopes that will be enough to avoid launching with another thud.

The PlayBook was a product that was clearly rushed out the door in response to the burgeoning success of Apple's iPad, a fact that was pretty obvious when playing with the device. It was missing critical features such as access to BlackBerry e-mail, calendar, and the BlackBerry Messenger service.

A BlackBerry product without BlackBerry e-mail? It's kind of funny until you realize that really happened.

The PlayBook came with no carrier support. A RIM executive had boasted to me during the launch that the carriers were excited to sell the device -- something that was apparently news to the carriers when I checked in with them. In fact, few had even cleared the app necessary to bridge the PlayBook with a BlackBerry, another "feature" that was confusing and annoying. It's clear the carriers realized what a dud the tablet was and were quick to distance themselves from it.

RIM subsequently updated the PlayBook with improved software, filled in the missing features, and slashed the price on the devices, but at that point, consumers had moved on. Even at its bargain bin price, it faced rising competition from the Kindle Fire, and the subsequent wave of lower-priced tablets have blown it away.

You can't accuse RIM of rushing out BlackBerry 10. If anything, the operating system is way overdue. But the company has clearly spent the time to work out the kinks, and the early experience with the software has been pleasantly surprising.

RIM isn't aping a trend or trying something completely new with BlackBerry 10, it's actually focusing on its core smartphone product.

At the same time, the carriers have been enthusiastic when talking about RIM and its prospects. The leadership, which has been overhauled under new CEO Thorsten Heins, have promised a massive global launch. The carriers want a third viable mobile operating system, and if Windows Phone falters, RIM could have its opening. Bottom line: the carriers won't be abandoning BlackBerry 10 like they did the PlayBook.

That's not to say BlackBerry 10 has a clear path to success. The launch of the platform in late January, which is a quieter time of the year, may backfire for RIM. Windows Phone could take off this holiday, reducing the urgency that the carriers feel to back an alternative mobile operating system.

The competitive environment hasn't gotten any better, with more Android smartphones than ever and Apple's iPhone 5 dominating sales. And the BlackBerry name may be too tarnished and irrelevant to draw back consumers -- BlackBerry 10 will be a good test of how loyal those 80 million subscribers really are.

But to write BlackBerry 10 off as another PlayBook debacle is silly. RIM should get a fairer shake than that.