Though not entirely unexpected, it turns out Apple’s second-generation iPad tablet will be released before the BlackBerry PlayBook hits store shelves in April. This could be a crushing blow to RIM and its PlayBook, which has already fallen under heavy scrutiny for not measuring up to Apple’s iOS offering according to bloggers, analysts and members of the press who have spent time with the tablet. Apple on Wednesday announced that its new iPad 2 will become available in stores and online beginning March 11th, a full month before the PlayBook is expected to launch on April 10th. The iPad, which already owns the consumer market, is quickly gaining ground in enterprise as well, so RIM’s plan to target businesses could easily be thwarted right out of the gate.

But that’s hardly the end of the story. The PlayBook’s shortcomings — namely its dependency on a tethered BlackBerry smartphone in order to use corporate email and other functions — may be compounded by the lack of apps available at launch for its new QNX platform. RIM is reportedly looking to overcome this barrier by supporting Android apps, but the iPad and iOS are still the tablet platform of choice for many mobile developers. And even if QNX does include Android app support, RIM will still need to get developers on board to create native flagship apps for QNX.

The bad news continues to mount, unfortunately, and we’re afraid the odds will certainly be stacked against the PlayBook at launch. Whether or not RIM’s first tablet will be able to rise to the occasion and sell well in spite of steep competition remains to be seen. If it does, however, it could end up being the biggest coup RIM will have managed in years.