RIM to Sell PlayBook Tablet April 19, Taking on Apple’s IPad

Research In Motion Ltd. (RIM) said its BlackBerry PlayBook tablet computer will go on sale in the U.S. on April 19 through retailers including Best Buy Co., as it seeks to compete with Apple Inc. (AAPL)’s iPad.

A version with 16 gigabytes of memory will cost $499, a 32- gigabyte model will retail for $599 and a version with 64 gigabytes will cost $699, RIM and Best Buy said today in a statement. Richfield, Minnesota-based Best Buy said it will start accepting orders today.

The announcement ends weeks of speculation about when Waterloo, Ontario-based RIM would begin selling the PlayBook to address the lead the iPad has created among business customers. RIM has shown the PlayBook to a “significant” portion of Fortune 100 companies and interest in the device is “very high,” Jim Tobin, senior vice-president, software and business services, said in an interview last week.

“RIM doesn’t have the cultlike following of Apple so I doubt there will be lines outside the stores,” said Alkesh Shah, an analyst at Evercore Partners Inc. in New York. “But feedback has been positive from people who’ve seen it and I think it’ll be a product that starts with slower sales than the iPad 2 but may exceed expectations by year-end.”

Apple, which has sold more than 15 million iPads in the past year, has said more than 65 percent of the Fortune 100 companies are testing or deploying the iPad, including Procter & Gamble Co. (PG) and Hyatt Hotels Corp. (H) Apple sold about 500,000 of the follow-up model, the iPad 2, over the March 11 weekend of its debut, analysts estimated.

Screen Size

Shah, who has an “overweight” rating on RIM, predicts the company will sell 250,000 PlayBooks in its fiscal first quarter which began Feb. 27, and 5.4 million over the fiscal year.

The PlayBook has a 7-inch (18-centimeter) screen, which RIM executives say makes it more portable than the iPad. The iPad’s screen measures 9.7 inches giving consumers a bigger surface to browse the Web or read books on. Apple Chief Executive Officer Steve Jobs said late last year that smaller tablets are “dead on arrival” because they are too small to compete with the iPad.

RIM gained 24 cents to $62.41 at 4 p.m. New York time in Nasdaq Stock Market trading. The stock has climbed 29 percent since the PlayBook was unveiled Sept. 27.

The prices for the three different PlayBook models, which come with Wi-Fi connectivity, are exactly the same as for comparable iPad models, making them “very competitive,” said Mike Abramsky, an analyst with RBC Capital Markets in Toronto. He has a “top pick” rating on RIM.

The PlayBook will go on sale in more than 20,000 stores in the U.S. and Canada operated by retailers Staples Inc. (SPLS), RadioShack Corp., Office Depot Inc. and carriers including AT&T Inc. (T), Sprint Nextel Corp. (S) and Verizon Wireless.

That distribution is more than double the availability of the iPad 2, which is available in about 10,000 stores, Abramsky said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Hugo Miller in Toronto at hugomiller@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Elstrom at pelstrom@bloomberg.net

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