BlackBerry PlayBook almost in play, but FIPS certification awaits

Research In Motion is said to be ramping up production in Taiwan to the tune of 200,000 a month

The BlackBerry PlayBook, a much-anticipated tablet PC from Research In Motion, has begun production, with the first round of shipments possibly to be seen by late February.

According to a report from Digitimes, the PlayBook is being made by Quanta Computers at its factories in Taiwan. The report says that the about 150,000 to 200,000 PlayBooks will roll off the factory lines a month ahead of the official launch, which is expected at the end of the (Canadian) first quarter.

That number is less than many expected. Industry analysts had initially pegged RIM to have around a million PlayBooks ready by the end of March but with this news it appears that there will be about half of that.

The PlayBook will not be certified at launch to meet Federal Information Processing Standards 140-2 requirements and it appears the National Institute of Standards and Technology will not be able to run the tablet through its Cryptographic Module Validation Program (CMVP) for at least a month, perhaps more. Once the PlayBook moves from NIST's labs to CMVP it could take one to two months for certification.


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If RIM is counting on the enterprise for most of its tablet sales then FIPS certification (or a promise of it being verified sooner than later) is essential. Hence, it makes a certain degree of sense to keep production counts low until the company can gauge U.S. consumer interest in the device while waiting to see how quickly the enterprise and federal and local government will move to adopt the device.

Timing of the PlayBook launch could be critical for RIM, which will face more competition as the year wears on. Apple's iPad is continuing to make inroads into the federal and enterprise space and the iPad 2, while not announced, is expected in the second or third quarters of this year.

Then there are a slew of Android-based tablets coming to the market with the Motorola Xoom leading the pack. Android has not yet been widely adopted at the federal level but the software developer kit for Android 3.0 Honeycomb, the version optimized for tablets, does add more security options to device and application makers that could potentially help make Android tablets a larger player in the enterprise tablet market.

"I believe that iPad will dominate the tablet space for some time and that is true for the enterprise segment as well," industry analyst Chetan Sharma said. "Xoom is a pretty good Android device and, depending on its pricing, it might do well relative to other Android devices. From what we are hearing about the feature set of PlayBook, it is unlikely to have a major impact in 2011."

Part of the current production number being reported by Digitimes may have to do with what type of connectivity the PlayBook is expected to use. The initial launch of the tablet will be a Wi-Fi only device with the ability to be tethered with a BlackBerry smart phone to connect to the Internet. A 3G version of the PlayBook is expected after that and RIM and telecommunication company Sprint announced at this year's Consumer Electronics Show that a 4G (WiMax) BlackBerry PlayBook would be available this summer. It would make sense for RIM not to produce too many Wi-Fi only tablets if it is proven that the market prefers a device with both Wi-Fi and cellular data functionalities.

Security is a primary concern for RIM with the PlayBook, since security is the biggest strength the company still holds over Apple, Android, Symbian and Microsoft mobile platforms. Hence, Digitimes reports that the PlayBook will only be manufactured by Quanta in Taiwan so as to supposedly keep it from being copied by developers on the Chinese mainland.

RIM believes there will be a strong federal market for the PlayBook. David Heit, director of product strategy at RIM, said that many federal agencies, especially those with heavy BlackBerry smart-phone adoption, are looking into the PlayBook.

"All the federal departments that use BlackBerry obviously have an interest in PlayBook," Heit said. "I am not sure I am at the liberty to be the one to come out and announce the one that specifically want to go first in that type of thing but they all are very much wanting to participate in this."

About the Author

Dan Rowinski is a staff reporter covering communications technologies.

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