RIM PlayBook Launch Solid Amid ATandT Tethering Issue

Research In Motion's PlayBook may have sold 45,000 units on the first day of launch, according to Jefferies & Co. It's no iPad 2, but it's got some interest despite no AT&T BlackBerry tethering.

Those expecting Apple iPad-like lines for Research In Motion's PlayBook April 19 might consider the device a failure, but at least one analyst called the device a success for shipping at least 45,000 units at launch.

The 7-inch PlayBook costs $499 for the 16GB model, $599 for the 32GB model and $699 for the 64GB version, in line with Apple's iPad 2. eWEEK's full review of the device is here.

The tablet features the QNX operating system and the BlackBerry Bridge tethering feature that connects the tablet to a BlackBerry smartphone via Bluetooth and WiFi to display the phone's email, calendar and contacts. The PlayBook features no native email app, although RIM has promised one in the next 60 days.

With no native email app, buggy software and tepid reviews from major publications, the PlayBook hardly warranted overnight waiting for the masses.

Yet Jefferies & Co. analyst Peter Misek said that sell-through surveys taken at Best Buy and Staples indicated sales excluding preorders of 20,000 PlayBooks, mostly for the 32GB and 64GB versions. With consumer preorders of 25,000 units, Misek estimated 45,000 PlayBook units total sold.

"If correct, 45K+ sell though on the first day would be a success," Misek wrote April 20. "We also estimate enterprise preorders to be meaningfully higher than consumer. We think PlayBook sales are far exceeding MMI's [Motorola Mobility's] Xoom sales."

In the aftermath of all of the negative reviews, such a number may seem positive for the PlayBook. Yet it's important to remember Apple's iPad 2 may have sold as much as 500,000 units the first day last month, outselling the PlayBook by a factor of 10.

Still, Misek appreciated the device's application speed (powered by a 1GHz processor), ease-of-use, and responsiveness, and said the "videos were beautiful, games easy to use."

No doubt this is thanks largely to the Adobe Flash support, which even the most bearish of reviewers said was far and away the best ever on a tablet. And yet Misek isn't ready to part with his iPad 2.

"We like the Playbook but cannot see giving up our iPad 2 for it," Misek said. "We believe it will capture a slice of the market but iPad will be the majority."

Misek chalked up the PlayBook launch as a success despite the appearance of another, unforeseen snafu: AT&T doesn't provide free tethering for the PlayBook.

While Verizon Wireless, Sprint and T-Mobile are allowing the free installation of the BlackBerry Bridge tethering tool on their BlackBerry to port email to the PlayBook, AT&T blocks it because the company has not been able to test the software yet.

Another sticking point is that AT&T also would not confirm it would be free; AT&T store workers stated tethering the Playbook would cost $45 a month.

Misek said 8 million of 60 million BlackBerry users are on AT&T, making the lack of free tethering support "obviously disappointing," tempering the upside to an overall successful first day for the PlayBook.

The developments--or lack thereof--set the stage for a potentially interesting RIM's BlackBerry World developer conference, beginning May 3.

Developers will likely have several questions about the BlackBerry App World development scheme, as well as the expected "app players" that PlayBook users may download to install any of 25,000 BlackBerry Java apps and 200,000 Android apps from BlackBerry App World.