Research In Motion’s much vaunted PlayBook tablet got off to a quiet start in North America on Tuesday.

After leaving an empty Staples midtown Manhattan store at about 7:15 AM, we hit the nearby Office Depot. It had no customers looking for the device.  In fact, it was hard to tell Office Depot was even selling PlayBook at all until a store employee directed us to the basement.

It took  a while to find the PlayBook display among the other office supplies.

Once we found it, the display itself wasn’t very impressive, just a basic promotional sign. In fact, the store said that RIM had yet to send it a demo unit.

Instead, the employee handed out a leaflet listing the product’s tech specifications. Apparently, the store had sold three PlayBook early Tuesday.  At about 7:20, a man in a suit came in but it turned out to be a Wall St analyst who stopped by to check out how many people were buying the tablet.  Both analyst and reporter were gearing up to interview each other until they discovered they were on the same mission.

Demand looked better in Canada, where a short line formed outside a Best Buy in Toronto. But at a Future Shop in downtown Toronto, staff waited to welcome PlayBook buyers who didn’t really materialize. The PlayBook was at the far end of the tablet aisle and customers had to walk past an iPad display to get to it.