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AT&T Won’t Yet Release RIM Bridge E-Mail App for Playbook

AT&T Inc. (T), the second-largest U.S. wireless carrier, said it won’t release software to customers that enables e-mail on Research In Motion Ltd. (RIM)’s BlackBerry PlayBook that went on sale today until tests are complete.

“We’ve only just received the app for testing, and we want to make sure it will deliver a quality experience before we make it available to our customers,” Mark Siegel, a spokesman for Dallas-based AT&T, said today in an e-mail message.

RIM, the Waterloo, Ontario-based company that began selling the PlayBook in stores across Canada and the U.S. today, is battling mixed reviews from technology columnists who criticized the 7-inch tablet for lacking a built-in e-mail program and cited an inability to connect to mobile-phone networks.

“This seems to be an execution stumble,” said Tero Kuittinen, an MKM Partners LLC analyst in Stamford, Connecticut. “We know they were rushing to get this product to market, but you’d think they could get it to people sooner for testing.” He has a “buy” rating on RIM.

Marisa Conway, a spokesman for RIM, did not immediately return messages seeking comment. Jim Balsillie, RIM’s co-chief executive officer, said April 15 the criticism wasn’t fair and that it shouldn’t be a problem for customers who can pair their BlackBerrys to their PlayBooks to read e-mail, calendar and contacts database using software known as BlackBerry Bridge.

Summer Release

The company has said it plans to release an e-mail program for the Playbook this summer.

RIM dropped $1.61, or 2.9 percent, to $53.22 in Nasdaq Stock Market trading at 4 p.m. New York time. The stock has lost 14 percent in the past month and declined in 12 of the last 15 trading days.

Aside from critical reviews, RIM is competing with Apple Inc. (AAPL)’s iPad, which has exceeded 15 million sales in the past year. Consumer demand for the PlayBook, which went on sale today at 20,000 stores across Canada and the U.S., appeared to be muted.

The Staples Inc. (SPLS) store in Toronto’s business district opened an hour early and had no lines. Best Buy Inc.’s main store in downtown Toronto opened at 7 a.m., and had sold about 20 to 25 PlayBooks by 10 a.m, said Manish Nargas, a store manager. The ability to pre-order the device and the critical reviews may have contributed to a lack of foot traffic, he said.

“We were expecting a lot more,” said Nargas. “It’s a little disappointing.”

RIM is counting on its traditional base of business and government customers to embrace the PlayBook. The company is touting the device’s portability and support for Flash technology, used to play video on many websites. The iPad doesn’t play Flash content.

Customers Looking

Kevin Gopaul, chief investment officer of BMO Asset Management in Toronto, was one of two customers in the Best Buy store trying out the PlayBook at midmorning today.

The device’s ability to run presentations on a larger screen using a cable while allowing the user to run separate programs on the PlayBook was compelling, said Gopaul, 35.

“That’s perfect for me,” for client meetings, he said.

Customers that don’t already have a BlackBerry smartphone to pair their phones and PlayBooks to read e-mail and connect to the Internet seemed less convinced.

“Lack of e-mail, how can you not have that on the PlayBook,” said Eloi Fagundes, a 35-year-old nurse, as he browsed the selection of tablets at Best Buy in Toronto.

To contact the reporters on this story: Hugo Miller in Toronto at hugomiller@bloomberg.net; Greg Bensinger in New York at gbensinger1@bloomberg.net

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

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