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Apple lucky RIM PlayBook won't launch before Yule

Research In Motion has provided Apple with some much-needed breathing space by setting the projected release date for its new "professional grade" Blackberry PlayBook tablet for sometime in Q1 2011. Had RIM managed to get the PlayBook out the door in time for the Christmas season run-up, it would've taken some wind out of Apple sails, especially with business users.

However, Apple appears to be having its own problems getting the second-generation iPad ready, with reports suggesting that it could mid-2011 before that model reaches consumers, hopefully with some of the iPad Mark One's deficiencies addressed..

RIM's September 27 PlayBook announcement laid out the broad strokes of the market strategy it will be pursuing with the PlayBook, as well as what the tablet will look like and many of its technical specifications. However, there was no firm release date, nor any hint of how the PlayBook will be priced.

That degree of uncertainty underwhelmed the stock market, investors reacting to RIM's missing the pre-Christmas buying frenzy by driving down the firm's stock price, which had spiked two per cent in anticipation of the Monday announcement, to a decline of 2.56 per cent to $48.40 by Tuesday.

Had RIM gotten the PlayBook out the door by mid-to late November at a competitive or lower price, its array of advantages over the iPad could've been reasonably expected to capture potential sales of Apple's machine, whose relatively mediocre feature set is making it look mote than a bit handicapped and long in the tooth.

The BlackBerry PlayBook has front and rear-facing cameras - the iPad no camera - it supports Flash, which the iPad famously doesn't, has a microUSB I/O port - the iPad only its proprietary 30-pin dock connector and optional Camera Connection Kit - the PlayBook supports true symmetric multiprocessing, which the iPad still won't offer even after the next iOS upgrade adds a limited measure of multi-tasking function. There's also built-in message encryption and integration with enterprise servers that run BlackBerry's secure communication and ability to use an existing BlackBerry service account instead of having to buy a new one.

The iPad's most significant functional advantage remains arguably its 9.7-inch screen as opposed to the PlayBook's 7-incher, but presumably the more compact footprint, slimmer profile and lower weight of the PlayBook will appeal to many, while users who are mostly content consumers will probably continue to tilt towards the iPad's larger display.

The PlayBook, to be released in "early 2011," will still likely to get a fair jump on the second generation iPad, which a Goldman Sachs report this week predicted will be thinner, and lighter with a built-in camera and a mini USB port, but may not be ready for sale until June 2011.

Not to suggest that RIM has the remotest prayer of seriously challenging the iPad's massive head start and established dominance of the tablet sector. However, among enterprise and institutional tablet buyers, it should be able to put a dent in Apple's market hegemony.