Jefferies & Co. said Research In Motion Ltd.'s (RIM) Blackberry Playbook sales are far exceeding Motorola's Xoom sales. The brokerage said its checks indicate first-day sales skewed toward pre-orders and the 32GB and 64GB models.
Our survey work indicates retail sell-through at Best Buy and Staples to be about 20,000 units (excluding pre-orders), combined with consumer pre-orders of about 25,000 units. If correct, 45,000-plus sell though on the first day would be a success. We also estimate enterprise pre-orders to be meaningfully higher than consumer, said Peter Misek, an analyst at Jefferies.
While the launch of the Playbook is not attracting overnight crowds, preorder sales and in-store demand in major cities has been solid; however, AT&T's prohibition of free tethering is an unexpected negative, said Misek.
Misek said demand and inventory were skewed much more toward urban stores. Also, demand and customer inquiries were skewed much more toward the 32GB and 64GB versions though inventory was skewed toward 16GB (possibly due to the higher capacity versions being used to fulfill pre-orders). The higher density skew could bode well for average selling prices.
In his personal review of the Playbook, Misek found the device to be largely responsive, easy to use, and fast. Wi-Fi is the primary use case for the majority of iPad buyers and he does not see that being different for the Playbook. Videos were beautiful, games easy to use. Importantly there were multiple times more apps for the Playbook than his Xoom.
Misek said apps available on the Playbook included Hotmail, Gmail, and Yahoo Mail in addition to Facebook and Twitter. Also, the Xoom felt noticeably heavier than the Playbook.
Reading books was actually doable as the weight (slightly less than Apple Inc.'s iPad 2) made fatigue less of an issue. We like the Playbook but cannot see giving up our iPad 2 for it. We believe it will capture a slice of the market but iPad will be the majority, said Misek.
The Playbook can connect to the Internet via Wi-Fi or via tethering with a Blackberry phone by using Blackberry Bridge, which utilizes Bluetooth. Wi-Fi Internet provides full access to the web, apps, and Internet email (e.g., Gmail). But tethering is required to use the native Blackberry email and calendar apps.
RIM said a software update is expected within 60 days that will provide native email without tethering. The tethering feature appeals to users as it does not require an extra data plan.
Misek said all U.S. carriers are allowing the free installation of Blackberry Bridge on their Blackberry phones except for AT&T who blocks it. AT&T spokespeople said it is due to RIMM delivering the software late and they have not been able to test it yet; however, they also would not confirm it would be free. Store workers stated tethering the Playbook would cost $45/month. A workaround is available, but store workers said they would monitor any surges in use and charge accordingly.
We estimate out of 60 million-plus Blackberry users that about 8 million are on AT&T. The lack of free tethering support is obviously disappointing. Also, consumers who purchase a Playbook expecting free tethering are likely to be irate, especially since there has not been an official public announcement by AT&T or RIM on this matter, said Misek.
Overall, Misek views the launch as better than the low consensus expectations and the view that the Playbook would be dead on arrival, but the upside is tempered by the AT&T issue. The next catalyst is the Blackberry World developer conference (May 3 to 5) where Blackberry OS 6.1 and QNX will both be highlighted.