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Office Depot to Tap Into Small Business Tablet Market with Blackberry PlayBook

With an eye toward getting its tablets into the hands of small business owners, Blackberry will begin selling its Blackberry PlayBook at Office Depot in April.

The move is part of an overall trend toward tablet makers recognizing the value of the small business market , which is increasingly embracing tablets because they are easily portable and relatively inexpensive.

Research firm AMI-Partners recently predicted tablet use among small businesses will rise by 30 to 35 percent by 2015; with more than 50 percent of businesses implementing server support to allow business apps to process transactions via tablet computers. 

Additionally, the Gartner Group finds tablet sales among both consumers and businesses have helped boost its overall IT spending predictions for computer hardware by 2 percent for 2011. Worldwide spending on tablet computers is projected to reach $29.4 billion in 2011, up from $9.6 billion in 2010. Global spending on tablets is forecast to increase at an annual average rate of 52 percent through 2015, Gartner concluded in research released this week.

Business embrace tablets

Blackberry is presumably banking on its iPad alternative to broaden its offering to the same business owners who embraced its smart phone technology to the point of near addiction, spawning the nickname “crackberry.”

Office Depot is also hoping the Blackberry PlayBook will further position it to cash in on some of the tablet mania that, thus far, has been mainly confined to only those who sell the iPad .

The PlayBook tablet prices will range from $499 to $699, positioning it competitively against the iPad and the Android tablet. The pricing is particularly appealing to small business owners who may find tablets more affordable than laptops for traveling and remote workers.

Small businesses will find it simple to adopt the PlayBook into their business because of its limitless uses and flexibility,” Office Depot said in a press release. “The PlayBook tablet is the first and only professional-grade tablet, which will establish itself as a new standard in the business category.”

Streamlining business

Small business owners are, indeed, increasingly recognizing the value of the tablet.

“Everything can be streamlined into one little tablet,” said Mark Van Wye, COO of the Zoom Room, a dog training franchise that uses iPads as its technical backbone.

The company uses iPads to check dogs into its facility, produce a digital copy of transaction receipts or schedules, collect information at community events, and it utilize the iPad 2 webcam feature to share high-resolution photos and video.

Another tablet enthusiast, Peter Fuller , vice president of marketing and business development for Scale Computing, a data storage solutions firm, said the portability of tablets is key.

“It allows folks to travel more lightly,” he said. He recently took a trip to London and brought along his iPad instead of his laptop because of its light weight and long battery life. “The iPad has become my backup system. It’s basically a second computer.”

Office Depot will begin selling the tablets April 19.

Additional reporting on this story by Ned Smith and Daniel Scharch.

Jeanette Mulvey

Jeanette has been writing about business for more than 20 years. She has written about every kind of entrepreneur from hardware store owners to fashion designers. Previously she was a manager of internal communications for Home Depot. Her journalism career began in local newspapers. She has a degree in American Studies from Rutgers University. Follow her on Twitter @jeanettebnd.