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RIM PlayBook a Little Too Late: Tech Edge

Stocks in this article: RIMM AAPL GOOG MMI VZ

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- It's one more delay and another strike against Research In Motion's (RIMM) PlayBook, which is already behind in the count.

The eagerly-anticipated BlackBerry tablet effort by RIM, which has been the subject of countless sneak peeks, finally got an official launch date, but it won't hit this month.

RIM says the PlayBook will go on sale April 19 at electronics retailers and at AT&T (T) and Verizon (VZ) stores. Best Buy (BBY) started taking orders for WiFi-only PlayBooks online Tuesday, with delivery promised for April 19.

Given that RIM missed the expected March launch date, and in light of the company's rotten launch track record, there had been fears that the PlayBook would not get an early spring sales debut. Delays have plagued RIM's effort to catch up with Apple (AAPL), Motorola (MMI) and Samsung in the tablet race.

Last year, thanks to an apparently flawed Marvell (MRVL) chip, RIM had to kill the BlackPad, its original tablet device. To avoid going to a developers' conference empty-handed in October, RIM rushed out a PlayBook prototype running on QNX software.

RIM's PlayBook production rate is currently running at about 500,000 PlayBooks a month, and supplies are now headed into distribution, said Rodman Renshaw analyst Ashok Kumar. This should help alleviate anxiety about further delays, but it equals a paltry presence in the young market. By comparison, production of Apple's popular iPad 2 is running at a rate of 2.5 million a month.

Too Little too Late?

Apple has all but squelched the tablet competition; rivals like Motorola and Samsung are gaining little ground. The RIM PlayBook will be the fourth sizeable player in the market, and it is bringing its own QNX operating system.

To application developers, this represents a much smaller sales opportunity than Apple, Google's (GOOG) Android and even Microsoft's (MSFT) Windows Phone 7 software.

The PlayBook, however, is aimed at a business-user niche and therefore has some of the BlackBerry home stadium advantage. The device is smaller than the 10-inch iPad with a 7-inch display. Its price starts at about $500, similar to the iPad. The prices will likely be higher with bigger storage capacity and 3G and 4G wireless features.

The PlayBook will have 4G LTE compatibility. This may make it the first tablet to run on Verizon's superfast network.

RIM wasn't exactly greeted with optimism by the market Tuesday, the stock, which had opened at $63.25, was down to $62.25 by midday.

--Written by Scott Moritz in New York.

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Editor's note: "Tech Edge" is a blog written and compiled by Scott Moritz, TheStreet's senior tech correspondent. The blog explores behind-the-scenes tech news, rumors and reports that Wall Street folks are talking about.

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