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RIM puts PlayBook into tablet fray

RIM puts PlayBook into tablet fray
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Canada’s Research In Motion has announced that its PlayBook tablet computer will go on sale in the US on 19 April. That will heat up the tablet battle against Apple and devices powered by Google’s Android operating system.

The maker of the BlackBerry mobile phone plans to sell in 20,000 US outlets and said it will match the price of Apple’s iPad. The PlayBook will face a tough sell against the iPad which dominates the tablet market.

RIM has little room for error and a small window to impress with its tablet. It was once the undisputed king of mobile communications, but slicker Google Android and Apple products have become must-haves for young consumers while also threatening RIM’s standing in the corporate world.

Just after making that announcement, Research In Motion warned its earnings would slip as it spends heavily on the launch of the PlayBook tablet, sending its shares tumbling.

While the company’s net profit in the quarter ended in February jumped 32 percent, and it shipped a solid number of its BlackBerry smartphones, investor attention zoomed in on its less-than-rosy forecasts for the current quarter.

RIM also said it gave a wider guidance range due to potential disruption to its supply chain in the aftermath of the Japanese earthquake this month. It said it had inventory on hand but delivery times for more supplies are uncertain.

Analysts expressed concern that RIM is finding it increasingly difficult to impress consumers with its smartphones, particularly in the US market. There the BlackBerry is steadily losing market share to snazzier competitors including the iPhone and Android devices.

But it is nurturing solid growth in global markets, where customers and carriers are impressed with its mid-range devices, cheaper data plans and applications such as BlackBerry Messenger, a free instant messaging service.

More than half of its sales came from outside North America and Britain in the latest quarter, the company said.