RIM launches PlayBook but fans don't play along

Tue Apr 19, 2011 5:59pm EDT
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By Alastair Sharp and Sinead Carew

TORONTO/NEW YORK (Reuters) - Research In Motion's PlayBook tablet computer launched in thousands of stores on Tuesday and mostly stayed there, a grim reminder of Apple's lasting allure for tech-hungry consumers.

By mid-afternoon, two carriers and two electronic stores in one of downtown Toronto's main shopping malls -- where long lines greeted last month's iPad 2 launch -- had stock available. Each started the day with no more than 5 PlayBooks.

"It's going to be a tough sell to the consumer," BGC Partner analyst Colin Gillis said of the tablet, a sleek but flawed gadget that doesn't yet offer the secure email that is the trademark of RIM's ubiquitous BlackBerry.

RIM, which has priced the PlayBook to match the iPad, has struggled to win consumer fans since Apple's iPhone and a slew of devices running Google's Android entered the smartphone fray.

But reviewers panned the PlayBook for the absence of inbuilt email and organizer functions -- the gadget needs a BlackBerry to access those -- and said it appeared to have been rushed to market before it was ready.

The stakes could not be higher for RIM, whose security-focused BlackBerry once reigned supreme in financial, corporate and government circles. Its shares closed almost 3 percent lower at $53.22 on the Nasdaq.

RIM must now persuade its corporate base to ignore the poor consumer turnout and scathing reviews and see the merit in a powerful new operating system and complex arrangement that retains RIM's famed BlackBerry security.

"When RIM launches a tablet they have the luxury of knowing there is at least some guaranteed demand from the enterprise," said Morgan Keegan analyst Tavis McCourt. Limited supply and lack of major advertising hinted RIM was easing into the launch, he added.   Continued...

<p>A woman holds the a RIM PlayBook in Toronto, April 19, 2011. REUTERS/Mark Blinch</p>