RIM assures that Wi-Fi only PlayBook on schedule

By Dow Jones Newswires
Posted Jan. 6 at 12:26 p.m.

Research In Motion Ltd.  reiterated Thursday its plans to release the Wi-Fi-only version of its PlayBook tablet in the first quarter of calendar 2011.

“The BlackBerry PlayBook is expected to begin shipping in the U.S. in Q1,” RIM said in an e-mail sent via their outside public-relations firm, Brodeur Partners.

Concern that the Wi-Fi version of the device could be delayed were stoked when RIM announced earlier Thursday that a 4G version of the PlayBook will launch with Sprint Nextel Corp.  this summer. RIM didn’t mention then that the Wi-Fi version remains on schedule for the first quarter, raising fears it could be late.

On the Nasdaq Thursday, RIM is down 1.8 percent, or $1.12, to $60.81 on 13.6 million shares. The stock had traded as low as $59.80 earlier in the session.

“There is a perception that the device is delayed,” Kaufman Bros. Shaw Wu told Dow Jones.

Wu noted that anxiety about a possible delay first surfaced in December, when RIM said its fiscal fourth-quarter guidance didn’t include any PlayBook revenue. RIM’s fourth quarter ends Feb. 26, meaning the Wi-Fi version of the PlayBook must be commercially available in March for RIM to meet its targeted timeframe.

RIM’s e-mailed statement Thursday suggests that timeframe is intact.

Concern over the timing of the PlayBook launch isn’t the only thing weighing on RIM’s stock Thursday. The Sprint announcement is also garnering a mixed response, as the carrier is perceived by many as a weak sister to AT&T Inc. and Verizon Wireless, the two largest carriers in the U.S. “I think it’s down because Sprint is not perceived as the best launch partner,” CIBC World Markets analyst Todd Coupland told Dow Jones.

Coupland said he believes this perception is misguided, noting that Sprint is the first carrier to launch 4G wireless service, and it is turning its operations around after several lean years. Indeed, Sprint has cut its churn rate to less than 2 percent in each of the past two quarters, and in its third quarter it added 644,000 new customers, the most in four years. “I think (Sprint) is not a bad choice for RIM,” Coupland said.

Morgan Keegan’s Tavis McCourt said RIM will announce more carrier partners for the PlayBook in coming months. “If Sprint were the only carrier distribution that would be disappointing, but we highly doubt that. Its just the first announced,” he said.

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