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Leaked BlackBerry roadmap reveals two phablets, widescreen tablet in coming year

Roadmap follows industry pattern of many device form factors

BlackBerry plans to release a larger tablet and two phone-tablets, or phablets, over the next year, according to a leaked roadmap presentation slide.

The three devices will run the BlackBerry 10 mobile operating system, which powers the Z10 smartphone and its upcoming Q10 qwerty cousin, according to the slide, which first appeared over the weekend on Twitter as @BB10Leaks.

BlackBerry officials didn't comment on the roadmap, but CEO Thorstein Heins said repeatedly last Thursday in comments to analysts that more devices would launch on BlackBerry 10 this year, without indicating form factors.

The three new devices represented in the slide show a BlackBerry 10 tablet with a widescreen aspect ratio as well as a "U10" phone-tablet, which some call a phablet, and an "R10" phablet with a physical qwerty keyboard.

The B10 tablet is shown shipping in the third and fourth quarters, while the two phablets would be released later, the U10 at the end of the year and the R10 in spring of 2014.

There are no specifications on the slide, but the devices appear to be shown roughly in proportion to each other, with the phablets appearing to be wider than the existing Z10 and Q10 smartphones.

BlackBerry already has a 7-in. tablet called the PlayBook that is more square in shape than the widescreen look of the B10 in the slide. Some analysts and bloggers said it's possible that BlackBerry is developing a competitor to the variety of 9-in. to 11-in. tablets on the market, including many Android tablets, as well as the 9.7-in. iPad.

"BlackBerry wants to be a full-line competitor, particularly for business users, so they have to have a full line of products to compete head-on with Apple and Android, primarily Samsung," said Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates. "I would expect any viable competitor to establish a full line of products touching on all the various preferences of the marketplace, which includes smartphones, phablets and tablets."

Gold couldn't confirm any of the leaked details in the slide, but said it does not appear to include the mid-priced smartphones that BlackBerry plans to launch over the next few quarters that have been hinted about by Heins and other executives.

The PlayBook tablet first went on sale in April 2011 running on what BlackBerry then called the BlackBerry Tablet OS, based on QNX. BlackBerry later said it would merge that tablet OS into the BlackBerry 10 OS. BlackBerry also released a major update to the PlayBook tablet OS in February 2012.

The first release of the PlayBook was criticized for not having native email.

Analysts are not sure that BlackBerry can keep up with production demand for so many new devices that depend on a relatively constrained supply chain for displays and other components. But to boost its global market share, currently at less than 10%, BlackBerry will need that variety.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is [email protected].

See more by Matt Hamblen on Computerworld.com.

Read more about tablets in Computerworld's Tablets Topic Center.


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