Analysts spar over BlackBerry PlayBook's prospects

Research In Motion (NASDAQ:RIMM) has yet to release the WiFi-only version its PlayBook tablet, let alone the version destined for Sprint Nextel's (NYSE:S) mobile WiMAX service, but analysts are fiercely jousting over whether the tablet will fly or flop.

The PlayBook was on hand at the Consumer Electronics Show last week in Las Vegas.Current Analysis analysts Avi Greengart and Meredith Eitt in a recent report lambasted RIM's PlayBook strategy, noting the tablet requires a tethered BlackBerry phone for access to native email and PIM data. "Since the first thing that any prospective buyer will do with something called a 'BlackBerry' is check out its email client, it is astonishing that RIM would go this route," the analysts wrote. "Calendar, contacts and memos are also MIA unless the customer has a BlackBerry, too. By creating the PlayBook as a companion device rather than fully functional on its own, RIM is not only dramatically limiting sales to existing BlackBerry customers, it also means that RIM cannot use the PlayBook to bring people to the brand. Doesn't RIM know that it needs the PlayBook to win over iOS and Android users if it is ever going to get these consumers back once RIM has a QNX-based smartphone?"

However, the analysts praised the PlayBook's liberal borrowing of Palm's webOS user interface as well as the tablet's security features and specifications. The PlayBook runs on new software from QNX and features a 1 GHz dual-core processor, 1 GB of RAM, a 5-megapixel rear-facing camera and 3-megapixel front-facing camera, as well as support for Adobe Flash Player 10.1, Adobe Mobile AIR and HTML5.

A RIM spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Despite the downbeat report from Current Analysis, other analysts are more bullish on RIM's prospects in taking on Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPad. RBC Capital analyst Mike Abramsky recently wrote in a research note that the PlayBook likely will have a strong debut. "Hands-on PlayBook demonstrations at CES showed its differentiation in multitasking and performance, which may be difficult for Apple/Android to rival," Abramsky wrote. "RIM showed simultaneously running desktop/business applications, 3D games, 1080p video, mobile desktop, Flash-based browsing, apps--possibly a unique advantage, if this experience becomes ‘table stakes' for tablets."

Abramsky expects RIM to sell anywhere from 3 million to 6 million PlayBooks in 2011.

Barbara Stymiest, COO at RBC Financial Group, sits on RIM's board of directors.

For more:
- see this AllThingsD article
- see this Barron's blog post
- see this IntoMobile post

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Sprint will launch 4G tablet in 2011
RIM's Balsillie pumps up PlayBook, hits Apple over app model
RIM to sell PlayBook tablet for under $500
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