RIM PlayBook May Release Later than Expected

RIM may release its PlayBook tablet PC after February 2011, later than expected by some pundits and analysts. Can the PlayBook compete against the next-generation iPad?

Research In Motion reported strong financial results for the third quarter of fiscal 2011, again refuting some predictions of its imminent demise at the hands of Apple and Google-but along with those positive numbers came rumblings that the PlayBook, its tablet PC due in early 2011, will be released later than some pundits and analysts expected.

RIM reported a year-over-year increase in BlackBerry shipments of 40 percent, to 14.2 million units for the quarter. Revenue for the period hit $5.49 billion, a 40 percent rise over the same quarter in 2009. The company's total BlackBerry subscriber base now stands at 55 million, after the net quarterly addition of another 5.1 million accounts.

"RIM's business continues to grow and diversify as BlackBerry adoption accelerates in markets around the world," Jim Balsillie, co-CEO of RIM, wrote in a Dec. 16 statement. "With strong results and momentum from our recent product introductions, as well as growing excitement from our partners and customers around upcoming smartphone, tablet, software and service offerings, we are setting the stage for continued success."

RIM's share of the U.S. market has softened in recent quarters, in the face of increased competition from Google Android devices and Apple's harder push into the enterprise mobile space. Despite that, research group The NPD Group recently announced that, for third quarter, RIM's BlackBerry Curve 8500 series lagged behind only Apple's iPhone 4 as the top handset model among U.S. consumers.

However, the mobile game is now more than smartphones, with tablets widely expected to continue their meteoric sales over the next year. New data by ChangeWave Research suggests that corporations will increase their IT spend on tablets, with 14 percent reporting an anticipated purchase in the first quarter of 2011.

A portion of those businesses have their eye on RIM's PlayBook. "Although the release of the RIM PlayBook isn't expected until late-1st quarter 2011, RIM (9 percent) is now tied with Dell (9 percent) for second place in terms of future buying-a positive development for the Canadian manufacturer," Paul Carton, ChangeWave's vice president of research, wrote in a Dec. 15 research note.

Despite never formally announcing a release date for the device, RIM is now indicating that revenues from the PlayBook won't appear on balance sheets until the first quarter of the company's fiscal 2012, or March 2011. That suggests a tablet launch sometime after February, and it means RIM will release the PlayBook into the midst of what promises to be an ultra-competitive environment-not only from the increasing number of Android-based tablets, but possibly the next-generation iPad.

For its part, RIM is publicly bullish on its tablet prospects. "I think the PlayBook clearly sets the bar way higher on performance, and you're going to see more," Balsillie said during RIM's Dec. 16 earnings call, according to a rough transcript provided by the San Francisco Chronicle. "I think with the PlayBook ... we're going to set the new standard on performance and tools, very powerful tools. And we're growing very, very fast."