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Dale Courville tries out the RIM PlayBook in Toronto on Tuesday. (MARK BLINCH/REUTERS)
Dale Courville tries out the RIM PlayBook in Toronto on Tuesday. (MARK BLINCH/REUTERS)

Tablets

RIM puts its PlayBook in motion Add to ...

The wait for the PlayBook has ended. The polishing of the PlayBook continues.

Research In Motion's Ltd.'s much-anticipated tablet computer hit stores Tuesday, with few lineups and little of the consumer fanfare that accompanied the launch of its chief rival's products, as the company works out software bugs in order to improve the device.

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Indeed, there was more evidence on launch day of just how feverishly RIM has been working to get the PlayBook's features ready.

One of the key selling points of the device is the fact that people can use it in conjunction with their BlackBerry smart phones, accessing functions such as e-mail and calendar on the larger screen. Doing so requires a software application called the BlackBerry Bridge. But some customers in the U.S. and Canada complained that they could not get it.

Some speculated that AT&T Inc., the No. 2 U.S. wireless carrier, was refusing to allow the application because it could be used to surf the Web on a PlayBook using a BlackBerry data plan without paying the carrier an extra fee. However, AT&T said RIM had sent over the software only recently, and the company was still testing it to make sure it worked properly.

In a note to investors that he typed up on his new PlayBook, Raymond James analyst Steve Li said the tablet simply needs a little more time for refinement, adding that "four to six more weeks of polishing and we probably would have had a winner on our hands."

He added that RIM could find some lucrative niches to exploit. "What we focused on is, can this replace our laptop on the road?" he said. "In our view, absolutely."

Many consumers on Tuesday were also confident RIM would continue to improve the PlayBook through wireless software updates in the next few days and weeks, and those lining up for the device were largely enthusiastic about the first tablet computer made by the Waterloo, Ont., tech giant.

"This thing's more for work than for play," said Anthony Smith, a private investigator who bought a PlayBook on launch day. "It's a wonderful tablet, man. It's just unstoppable."

The seven-inch BlackBerry PlayBook is being sold in thousands of stores across North America. Unlike Apple's iPad launches, there were no long queues of consumers waiting to get their hands on the device. However, that's in part because RIM allowed users to preorder the devices, meaning that many people simply waited at home or their offices for their PlayBooks to arrive.

"Maybe [RIM]did it that way so you couldn't compare the two launches," said Jeremy Kirpaul, a product expert with Future Shop, who was at the store's downtown Toronto location on launch day.

Regardless, there appeared to be a steady stream of people interested in playing with the two devices available to demo at the store. "The reviews were so mixed that it's almost as if people want to try it for themselves," Mr. Kirpaul said.

Some analysts expect PlayBook sales to take off after a slow start. National Bank Financial analyst Kris Thompson projects that RIM will sell just under 500,000 PlayBooks in the first quarter, which ends in May, with shipments in fiscal 2012 totalling about 3.6 million. That will rise to more than six million in 2013.

The PlayBook will also fuel RIM's revenue growth. Mr. Thompson expects RIM to see an extra $1.7-billion in sales in 2012 and $2.8-billion in 2013 from the tablet.

Not all early consumer impressions were positive. At a Best Buy store in downtown Toronto, Shayne Yestal tried out a PlayBook demo unit, but isn't buying one.

"Where's the apps? I mean, it was good - it froze up on me a bit - but where's the apps?" he asked, noting that Apple's iPad and existing Android tablets have many more developer-made applications.

However, Mr. Yestal said the PlayBook's operating system was well designed - good news for RIM, which plans to transfer the same operating system over to all its BlackBerry smart phones starting next year.

"If they could take that [user interface]and stick it in a phone, that'd be great," he said.

 
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