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Is the BlackBerry PlayBook making a comeback?

The latest quarter showed a surprising rise in PlayBook shipments, suggesting a hint of life for the once-mocked tablet.

The BlackBerry PlayBook could see an OS upgrade next week.
The BlackBerry PlayBook.
James Martin/CNET

There may be life in the BlackBerry PlayBook yet.

Research In Motion's tablet saw a surprising jump in shipments in the fiscal third quarter, with the company sending out 255,000 units in the period. In the last quarter it shipped 130,000, only slightly less than the 150,000 it shipped a year ago.

So what gives? Chief Financial Officer Brian Bidulka said during an investor conference call today that there was strong "promotional activity" in North America, with RIM seeing some success with the Wi-Fi and 4G versions of the PlayBook in North America and Europe.

While the numbers aren't exactly blockbuster when compared with the likes of Apple's iPad, they mark an impressive turnaround for a product that was widely panned and left for dead shortly after launch in April 2011. Rather than give up on the product, RIM opted to keep updating the software, finally filling in key missing features and enhancing its capabilities.

The PlayBook sold somewhat respectably in the holiday season last year, thanks in part to heavy discounts and placement as a bargain bin item. It appears as if discounts are playing into sales again this time around. Bidulka said the company is focusing on selling the tablets to business users.

It's unclear just how well the PlayBook is actually doing. The number of units shipped represents PlayBooks sent to retailers. A RIM representative declined to make available the sell-through figure, or the actual number of units purchased by consumers.

Still, it's an impressive feat that the device has hung on for so long after the launch.

Ultimately, the PlayBook isn't going to move the needle on RIM. For that to happen, the company needs a hit with its BlackBerry 10 platform. The company posted fiscal third-quarter results that exceeded expectations, but many are still watching to see how BB10 actually performs after months of hype from the leadership team.

CEO Thorsten Heins reiterated what COO Kristian Tear told CNET last month, and said that the carriers would offer their full marketing support for BlackBerry 10.

"They are absolutely ready and committed to spending marketing dollars," he said.