PlayBook in Public?

I don't watch too much television, but as a born and raised Canadian I of course had the hockey game on last night as I plugged away on the computer from my Miami hotel room (bad loss Canucks, you'll get them in game 7!). By the time I finally shut down and went to bed, it felt like I had watched a half dozen BlackBerry PlayBook commercials. As a hardcore BlackBerry fan and the guy who started the #1 site for BlackBerry users, I always get a little tingle of excitement whenever I see a BlackBerry commercial. Heck, I even get a tingle of excitement when I see people using a BlackBerry in public. But last night, as I drifted off to sleep, instead of excitement I actually felt panic when it dawned on me that despite the heavy PlayBook advertising, outside of BlackBerry World in Orlando in May, I have yet to see a person in public with a BlackBerry PlayBook.

Granted, I live in Winnipeg, but since the April 19th launch I've been two New York twice, and spent the last three weeks in Miami. That's plenty of time in airports and big cities. With the PlayBook's 7" form factor contributing to awesome portability, I would *think* I should be having more public PlayBook sightings assuming people are actually buying them (and I have seen quite a few iPads in this same period of time). Calling up our own Adam Zeis this morning, who lives in New Jersey and travels into Manhattan on a fairly regular basis, he too has yet to see somebody else in public using a PlayBook. The same story goes for our own Ryan Blundell, who lives in Vancouver. Sure, within our CrackBerry world there are lots of PlayBook owners -- our PlayBook forums are buzzing -- but for RIM to make tablets a commercial success they need to extend far beyond that.

RIM is going to report their first quarter 2012 fiscal results this Thursday (no that's not a typo, they have a weird corporate reporting period), and they SHOULD be reporting the number of PlayBooks sold to date on that day. At least on their last investors call, when they adjusted their earnings forecast downward, I'm pretty sure Co-CEO Jim Balsillie said they would announce the PlayBook numbers on their next earnings call and at that same time he told analysts that PlayBook sales were going fine. But are they going well? My guess is they'll only announce PlayBook sales figures this week if the numbers are compelling, and at this point I'm not so certain that they are.

Looking at public PlayBook sightings is an interesting and practical but obviously poor way to assess the sales of RIM's first tablet. But beyond that, I've been doing a lot of other checks that have proven to be quite accurate over the years. Talking to developers and seeing how their downloads are doing is a pretty good indicator. Knowing how many sales/downloads that the top paid and free apps are getting gives an idea of the total number of owners out there (and also the trends they are seeing gives a good indicator of the ongoing pace of device sales). Our newly released CB App for the BlackBerry PlayBook spent some solid time in top free downloads section, so I have some extra-good insight there. And just from running CrackBerry day to day for so many years now and seeing all of our site analytics and data, I've pretty much mastered the science and art of correlating various aspects of our own performance to RIM's sales success with various device models over the years that have both done extremely well and err.. failed to gain traction (*sheds* tear for Pearl 3G). Plus I tend to talk to a lot of analysts, who have their plethora of sales channel checks and more and am usually in sync.

So what's it mean for PlayBook sales? Well, take this as a **feeling** more than fact, but my best guesstimates would put PlayBook owners out there at under 200,000. They may have sold more than that of course, but I do believe the return rate on the PlayBook has been a little on the high side (again, I have a magic blackbox of knowledge for assessing that too). Of course, I'd hope to be wrong here and have RIM announce later this week that they've sold over double that, but I'm really just not seeing it. I do hope they announce PlayBook numbers though. If they don't, it'll be yet another indicator on this one that I'm right. And this is one that I'd love to be wrong on, as I want nothing but RIM to dominate in this market. The good news here of of course is that the PlayBook will soon be launching in 16 additional markets within the next 30 days and my fingers are crossed it fairs better in the rest of the world than it's been doing in North America so far. I really do love my PlayBook, so hope people give it a chance!

Either or, we'll be living blogging this week's earnings call, so be sure to hit the CrackBerry blogs at 5pm ET on Thursday. I have a feeling it'll be an interesting one. And while you're here, be sure to vote on our poll above... I'll be curious to see how many PlayBooks you've seen out there.