The unveiling of Research In Motion Ltd. 's new PlayBook tablet computer has, at least temporarily, sweetened the Street's souring take on Canada's largest and most important technology company.
RIM has gradually lost market share in the bruising smart-phone wars, as Apple Inc. and devices running Google Inc.'s Android operating system have eaten into a market that RIM used to own. Geopolitical problems in markets crucial to RIM's international expansion, such as India and Saudi Arabia, didn't help.
But with its new PlayBook, RIM seems to have offered Bay Street a tablet from on high, capable of rewriting that increasingly grim narrative.
"We think the perception on RIM will change," Chris Umiastowski of TD Securities Inc. wrote in a research note to clients. "So long as RIM continues to execute, there are few reasons for bears to stay negative on the stock."
The PlayBook is a three-pronged attack. First, by exploiting weaknesses that business customers saw in the iPad, such as the lack of multi-tasking and video conferencing and its incompatibility with Adobe Systems Inc.'s Flash, RIM is likely to see strong interest from corporate clients.
Second, RIM continues its push into the consumer space by making its operating system more appealing; unlike the iPad, the Playbook can record video and take photographs.
Finally, the company gave strong signs of support to application developers, hinting at its developers' conference on Monday that RIM may soon gain ground on Apple and Google platforms in terms of compelling apps. That would make the product more appealing to consumers as well as the firm's core market among the productivity-minded.
"We think the tablet will be compelling for enterprises," said Tim Long, an analyst with BMO Nesbitt Burns Inc. "We also think the advertising service will help attract developers to the platform and provide additional revenue sources for RIM."
At the same time, however, RIM's push into the tablet market puts it up against a slew of powerful competitors, including Dell Inc. and Hewlett Packard. There is also speculation that the second generation of Apple's iPad will be ready by the time RIM actually starts to sell the PlayBook in the United States in early 2011, potentially deflating the company's momentum once again.
But even with its vague launch details, RIM's tablet has, for now, burnished the company's image at a much-needed point in its struggle to maintain relevance. RBC Dominion Securities Inc. analyst Mike Abramsky estimates that RIM may sell as many as six million PlayBooks in the first year. As a comparison, Apple sold three million iPads in the U.S. in its first 80 days on sale.
"PlayBook may kick off a series of next-genwith cutting-edge software, more exciting designs and a broader app experience, along with unique services and partnerships," Mr. Abramsky writes. But, he adds, "Risks remain; the onus remains upon RIM to execute."