The long-awaited release of Research In Motion’s PlayBook tablet could be “the most significant development” for the company since the launch of its first BlackBerry in 1999, co-CEO Jim Balsillie says.

But will consumers glance up from their iPads for even a second to give it a chance?

Buzz for the PlayBook was palpable when the tablet was first announced late last September.

But demanding online critics long ago grew weary of the months-long wait for the device. And few expect that even fanatical RIM fans will show their devotion like Apple’s customers do — by lining up overnight — when the PlayBook launches April 19.

Balsillie said Thursday that RIM will be sending demo units to key Fortune 500 customers and has already received “fantastic” feedback.

But investors seemed to be less confident after the company released its latest earnings report and projections for growth. RIM stock plummeted more than 10 per cent Friday.

The fact that it’s taken RIM so long to bring its tablet to market also hasn’t inspired confidence, says David Soberman of the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.

He says RIM’s low-key promotion for the PlayBook might reflect an initial focus on its loyal corporate market, with consumers being wooed in the second wave of sales.

“But we still don’t really know what they’re going to do in the next two or three weeks.”