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The Blackberry PlayBook, photographed at Research In Motion's headquarters in Waterloo, Ont. (Peter Power/The Globe and Mail/Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)
The Blackberry PlayBook, photographed at Research In Motion's headquarters in Waterloo, Ont. (Peter Power/The Globe and Mail/Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)

RIM makes a play for its future Add to ...

Still, the business market is only so large. With companies like HP and Lenovo also pursuing it, it's clear the PlayBook will also have to win over consumers if it is going to be a success for RIM, which is why the company lobbied hard to get certain makers of consumer software on board.

The company's executives wooed two major game developers, Electronic Arts and Unity. As a result, the PlayBook will come pre-loaded with two EA games, and the Unity game engine, on which a host of games run, has been incorporated into the PlayBook hardware, making game-play much more crisp.

But perhaps the most important deal RIM secured for the PlayBook was with the company it turned to first - Adobe.

Very early on in the PlayBook design process, months before the company made its plans public, RIM decided to work with Adobe. The move made sense for both firms because they share a common enemy - the giant of Cupertino, Calif. Adobe was dealt a huge blow by Apple when it refused to allow Adobe's Flash-based multimedia on any of its handheld devices. (Flash is a common piece of software that runs interactive features on websites such as video. Its absence on the iPad and iPhone is why many videos on the Internet won't work on those devices.)

Mr. Lazaridis saw that there was an army of software developers - "it's over three million people" - who create programs using tools made by Adobe.

The Adobe relationship, he reasoned, could become a major weapon for RIM. Not only can the PlayBook run a lot of Internet video and television that the iPad can't, but in time, those millions of developers could also help the company close the "app gap" with Apple by building more apps for RIM products.

For the same reason, the PlayBook also will include an unusual feature that allows users to run apps that are designed for competing tablets that employ Google's Android operating system. The move means an infusion of tens of thousands of apps for the PlayBook (this feature also won't be available until this summer).

The app strategy is important not just for the PlayBook, but for making RIM more competitive in smart phones, too.

Increasingly, consumers choose their wireless devices not for their design, but for what they can do - for the software. (Apple even touts its 400,000 applications, which include everything from serious business tools to the silliest games, in its advertising.)

RIM has only about 25,000 BlackBerry apps, partly because many developers find the process of creating software for RIM's products as cumbersome. The PlayBook is the closest thing RIM will get to a fresh start with them - a brand new piece of hardware with a new operating system that will eventually be used to run all RIM smart phones.

High stakes

Mike Lazaridis is pleased. The high-definition video on The New York Times website - the one he has been trying to get working for a good part of this 90-minute conversation - is up and running. It looks flawless, streaming through the PlayBook to the huge television screen in a RIM conference room.

The process of getting the PlayBook across the finish line has not been quite so flawless. The product was supposed to be out by the end of March, but is more than two weeks late. (RIM officials privately say that March was an early estimate, and they are pleased to have come this close to meeting that target.)

With its turn in the spotlight coming up, RIM is working right up to the last minute. When The Globe and Mail visited RIM's offices in early April for a demonstration, engineers were still refreshing the PlayBook's software every day to work out bugs.

Such are the pitfalls of deploying thousands of employees to make a new product on an extremely tight deadline. For RIM - a company that, a very long time ago, was known to impatient investors as Research In Slow Motion - moving this fast is risky.

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