RIM to roll out PlayBook outside of N. America

By Alastair Sharp

TORONTO (Reuters) – BlackBerry maker Research In Motion will roll out its PlayBook tablet computer in 16 countries outside North America over the next month amid roiling criticism of its competitive stance.

The Canadian company’s long-awaited response to Apple’s iPad launched to some troubling reviews in the United States and Canada in April.


Waterloo, Ontario-based RIM said Friday it will begin selling the devices within 30 days in the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Australia, the United Arab Emirates and India, among other countries.

But analysts warn it risks repeating the tepid North American start, with limited marketing clipping sales potential.

“RIM could have done a better job of building excitement,” Tim Shepherd from Reading-based Canalys said. “I doubt the average person in the street has even heard of a BlackBerry PlayBook here.”

RIM has been dogged by troubles in recent months, disappointing investors by slashing sales and earnings forecasts soon after revealing a weak earnings outlook.

It had to recall about 1,000 PlayBooks last month due to an software flaw. RIM hoped the PlayBook launch could revive its fortunes, but the product garnered poor reviews and complaints that it had been rushed out before it was ready.

RIM’s chief marketing officer, Keith Pardy, left the company just ahead of the initial launch. His role was later filled by co-chief executive Jim Balsillie.

Apple sold a million iPads in the United States in the first month after its debut on April 3 last year.

Analysts expect RIM to report PlayBook sales of between 300,000 and half a million units in its first six weeks on shelves when it reports results next Thursday.

RIM gave no precise dates for the international launch nor detail on price. For North America, the PlayBook matched the price tag of equivalent WiFi-only iPads, at $499 for a model with 16 gigabytes of storage, $599 for a 32 GB version and $699 for 64 GB.

Other countries set to receive PlayBook shipments are Spain, Netherlands, Italy, Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Indonesia, Mexico, Colombia and Venezuela. (Additional reporting by Euan Rocha; editing by Janet Guttsman)