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RIM PlayBook sells 50,000 on Day One; Amazon tablet (probably) imminent

by Phil Hornshaw

Research in Motion’s (RIMM) new tablet, the Android app-compatible PlayBook, hit the streets this week. It also sold better on its first day of shelf life than many expected, moving 50,000 tabs on April 19.

Here’s a quote from MSNBC.com’s Gadgetbox on the subject from its story:

‘The launch appears to have been stronger than the launch of Motorola's Xoom [Android] Tablet, or the Samsung Galaxy Tab, although it's too early to judge sustainability,’ said RBC Capital Markets' analyst Mike Abramsky in a note to clients.

Of course, the PlayBook’s numbers aren’t exactly comparable to what Apple’s iPad pulled down -- 300,000 sold on its first day in April 2010, 19.5 million iPads and iPad 2s sold to date -- but in the increasingly crowded tablet market, it’s not a bad showing, especially given the fact that RIM has been struggling to catch up with Apple (AAPL) and Google (GOOG) of late. Abramsky told the Montreal Gazette that RIM is on track to ship 500,000 PlayBooks by the first quarter of 2012.

The Gadgetbox story notes that the PlayBook’s early reviews have been mixed, giving the tablet high marks for multitasking and a sharp screen, but faulting it for issues with its BlackBerry Bridge app software, which isn’t available to AT&T (T) customers yet and is necessary to access email. Another requirement for getting into BlackBerry email and calendars is owning a BlackBerry phone, which is likely a turn-off to potential buyers.

Still, RIM has put significant effort into the PlayBook. It’s priced along the same points and configurations as the iPad 2, starting at $499.99, and it acquired UI designers The Astonishing Tribe to help with the PlayBook’s user interface and software.

And RIM’s move to merge the BlackBerry experience with Android capabilities can’t be hurting it. There are still a lot of BlackBerry loyalists in the mobile market, so by bringing in Android app capabilities, RIM is basically serving the best of both worlds. That is, provided it hurries up and gets things like Bridge working.

An Amazon tablet could be a significant threat to iPad

The PlayBook might be doing pretty well, but its problems still are likely to hold it back from taking a serious bite out of the iPad 2. Meanwhile, speculation that Amazon (AMZN) has a cheap tablet in the works is cropping up all over the place.

The latest is a PC World story that discusses how big a shakeup a cheap tablet from Amazon could become. Bloggers and tech writers think that while Amazon hasn’t confirmed anything, a tablet is basically an “open secret,” and is likely being built by Samsung (005930.KS).

The basic thinking is that Amazon is cranking in profits from all angles -- music, apps, video and e-books -- and all that spare money would allow the company to invest in creating a cheaper tablet than its competition can. Pricing would probably be comparable to what we’re seeing on the Barnes & Noble (BKS) Nook, hovering in the $250 range. That would make it a solid Android tablet at half the price of the iPad. And Amazon could even make an ad-supported tab like it’s done with its latest Kindle iteration, which could bring  down the price even further.

The general feeling is that before long, we’ll be hearing about an Amazon tablet that will likely run some brand of Android 3.0 Honeycomb. In fact, most writers seem to think it’s a foregone conclusion. We’re just waiting for Amazon to say it out loud.