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RIM posts impressive earnings, co-CEO says PlayBook "way ahead" of iPad

After Research in Motion beat Wall Street expectations with its quarterly earnings Thursday, co-CEO Jim Balsillie asserted on the company's earnings call that the upcoming PlayBook 7-inch tablet is way ahead of Apple's iPad.

RIM announced impressive earnings Thursday for the November quarter, above analyst expectations. With revenue of $5.5 billion and shipments of 14.2 million BlackBerrys, RIM had a strong quarter, though likely not strong enough to catch Apple's iPhone. Apple sold 14.1 million iPhones during the September quarter.

Sales of the BlackBerry Torch, a smartphone that sports a touchscreen as well as RIM's signature mini-keyboard, helped lift the company's revenues.

"The results look pretty good. For the current quarter they definitely benefited from some new products. … The guidance also looks quite strong," said Kaufman Bros analyst Shaw Wu.

Continued growth from Apple and Android, however, has analysts worried for RIM. "There is some concern that (RIM's guidance) could be too optimistic perhaps because of the ongoing pressure, particularly from Android, in international markets," Wu said.

RIM's focus on international markets was particularly evident this quarter, with just one-third of its revenue coming from the U.S. The Waterloo, Ontario-based smartphone maker has seen its share of the North American smartphone market plunge from more than 50 percent a year ago to about 27 percent, according to Gartner Research.

Invigorated by RIM's better-than-expected results, Balsillie touted RIM and the PlayBook as superior to Apple in a several minute rant during the company's earnings call, Silicon Alley Insider reports. Balsillie's comments were in response to a question from JP Morgan analyst Rod Hall, who asked what RIM's plans were to get ahead of Apple and Google in the market.

"I think the PlayBook redefines what a tablet should do," said Balsillie, who believes the market will shift away from "a proprietary SDK and unnecessary apps," presumably a reference to Apple's iOS and App Store, to "web fidelity and tool familiarity."

RIM's unnecessary app and web fidelity arguments for the PlayBook as superior to the iPad are nothing new. In November, Balsillie criticized Apple with the cryptic comment: "You don't need an app for the Web." RIM has also released a Web fidelity comparison video pitting a prototype PlayBook against the iPad.

"I think there's going to be a rapid desire for high performance. And I think we're way ahead on that," Balsillie continued during Thursday's earnings call. "And I think CIO friendliness, we're way ahead on that."

Balsillie then remarked that RIM's strategy with carriers and content providers differs from that of Apple and Google. Answering his own questions about whether to go over the top of banks, content, carriers, and video content providers, he said, "I mean, who knows, you know?"

"I think the PlayBook clearly sets the bar WAY higher on performance, and you're going to see more," said Balsillie. "I think the BlackBerry is still number one in social collaboration."

Summing up his response, Balsillie reiterated that he thinks RIM is "just well ahead on the PlayBook, well ahead internationally, and extending very very well."

The PlayBook, which was unveiled in September, is set to launch in the first quarter of 2011. Given that RIM left the PlayBook off of revenues for its next quarter, which ends Feb. 26, the PlayBook will likely debut in March of next year, for a price less than $500.

The PlayBook will have fierce competition when it is released, as Apple is expected to follow up its highly successful first-generation iPad with an update in the spring of 2011. According to a recent report by DigiTimes, Apple is expected to produce 6 million second-generation iPads per month, significantly higher than the estimated 4 million per quarter produced for the current iPad.

RIM is betting heavily on the success of the PlayBook. Co-CEO Mike Lazaridis stated in a recent interview that the PlayBook OS will help RIM "jump into the next decade of mobile computing."

In an October survey of business IT Buyers looking to buy a tablet, 80 percent said they would choose the iPad, compared to just 8 percent for the RIM PlayBook.