RIM's PlayBook tablet unlikely to ship before March

The company confirms the new tablet is expected to ship in the first quarter

Research In Motion may have high hopes for its PlayBook tablet but it looks like the device will not go on sale until the end of the first quarter, according to comments from executives during RIM's earnings call Thursday.

RIM has said it will launch the tablet in the U.S. in the first calendar quarter of 2011. But in its quarterly earnings call, executives said they don't expect to record revenue from the PlayBook until the first quarter of the company's fiscal year, which starts in March.

RIM is forecasting revenue of US$5.5 billion to $5.7 billion for its fiscal fourth quarter ending in February, but that will not include revenue from the PlayBook, said Adele Ebbs, RIM's vice president of investor relations, during a conference call to discuss the company's quarterly earnings.

A RIM spokeswoman said later that no date has been announced for the launch of the tablet.

"The PlayBook redefines what a tablet should do," RIM co-CEO Jim Balsillie said during the call. He said the excitement from customers has been "overwhelming" and that the PlayBook will have an edge over competitors because of the ease of running existing Web apps on it.

The PlayBook faces tough competition from the popular Apple iPad, however, which some enterprises have already started using.

One analyst said the first version of the PlayBook may appeal only to a niche of users. "That one will probably have limited appeal," said Mark McKechnie, an analyst with Gleacher & Company. RIM has said the first PlayBook will have Wi-Fi connectivity but no built-in cellular connection. Subsequent versions are expected to have mobile Internet connections and so might appeal to a broader market, he said.

RIM said it shipped 14.2 million BlackBerry phones in the quarter ended Nov. 27, up 40 percent over the same period last year. Net income was $911.1 million, up from $796.7 million in the same quarter last year. The company brought in $5.5 billion in revenue.

In the smartphone market, RIM faces a tough challenger in the iPhone, which has enough security features to be acceptable to some enterprise users. RIM has been branching out into more markets around the world, which could help it to offset a shrinking market share in the U.S.

Nancy Gohring covers mobile phones and cloud computing for The IDG News Service. Follow Nancy on Twitter at @idgnancy. Nancy's e-mail address is Nancy_Gohring@idg.com

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