RIM says PlayBook launch a key to future

Research In Motion Ltd. shares dropped 10 per cent in after-hours trading as investors grew jittery about its future growth, even as the company said it expects the launch of its PlayBook tablet to be as pivotal as the debut of its first BlackBerry.

Research In Motion Ltd. shares dropped 10 per cent in after-hours trading as investors grew jittery about its future growth, even as the company said it expects the launch of its PlayBook tablet to be as pivotal as the debut of its first BlackBerry.

Shares in RIM (TSX:RIM) (NAS:RIMM) lost $6.67 to $57.42 in New York after-close trading, as the company reported a 32 per cent jump in its fourth-quarter profit on Thursday and delivered results that were in line with analysts’ expectations.

However, RIM’s first-quarter guidance for fiscal 2012 came in lower than analysts had expected, sparking fears about the Waterloo, Ont., company’s place in the ultra-competitive handheld device market.

Co-chief executive Jim Balsillie told analysts on a conference call Thursday that the launch of the PlayBook tablet is expected to be as important to Research In Motion’s future growth as the debut of its first BlackBerry.

“The launch of the PlayBook may well be the most significant development for RIM since the launch of the first BlackBerry device in 1999,” Balsillie told analysts after announcing a profit of US$934 million.

“We expect the PlayBook opportunity for fiscal 2012 is in the millions of units,” he said.

Balsillie said a number of Fortune 500 companies will be trying out PlayBooks in the coming weeks as the Canadian company fights for market share against Apple’s iPad and tablets using Google’s Android operating system, especially for consumer loyalty.

A new generation of more powerful BlackBerry smartphones using the operating system in the PlayBook will be released later this year, he said.

Balsillie noted the money being spent on research and development and marketing for the new products is significant and will put pressure on earnings in the short term but added, “we believe they lay the groundwork for a resurgence of growth.”

RIM’s PlayBook tablet will be available in stores in Canada and the United States on April 19.

BMO Capital Markets analyst Tim Long said RIM’s financial guidance for the first quarter of fiscal 2012 doesn’t meet expectations and it will likely continue to impact the company’s share price on Friday.

“We believe new products will hit in the August and November quarters, leading to a more back-end-loaded year than we previously anticipated,” he said in a research note. “We remain positive on the stock despite what will most likely be a pullback tomorrow.”

In its financial results, the BlackBerry maker said profit in its latest quarter amounted to $1.78 per diluted share for the quarter ended Feb. 26, compared with a profit of $710 million, or $1.27 per diluted share a year ago.

Revenue in what was the company’s fourth quarter of its 2011 financial year totalled $5.56 billion, up from $4.08 billion in the year-earlier.

The average analyst estimate had been for a profit of $1.76 per share, according to Thomson Reuters. The average revenue estimate called for $5.6 billion.

RIM said it shipped 14.9 million BlackBerry smartphones during the quarter.

In its outlook, RIM said it expects to earn between $1.47 and $1.55 per diluted share for its next quarter on revenue between $5.2 billion and $5.6 billion, not high enough for analysts.

The company said the range was slightly wider than normal due to the risk of potential disruption for components due to the earthquake in Japan and the development of new devices.

The average analyst estimate according to Thomson Reuters had been for a profit of $1.65 per share on $5.64 billion in revenue in what will be the company’s first quarter of its 2012 financial year.

Analysts expect the PlayBook to appeal to corporate users because of its smaller size, easier to fit into business attire as well as lab coats. The PlayBook will have a seven-inch screen versus the iPad 9.7-inch screen.

Security is another feature expected to appeal to business users. The first generation of the PlayBook can be tethered to a BlackBerry device for email, providing the same level of security as the BlackBerry, and eliminating the need for another data plan from a wireless carrier.

RIM also announced Thursday that the PlayBook will be able to run Android software applications in an attempt to expand the availability of apps on the tablet.

The PlayBook supports Adobe Flash for games and movie streaming. It also has the ability for a user to play a high-definition video game, for example, while another application is running.