Better late than never, right? Research In Motion has released the next iteration of its BlackBerry PlayBook OS that (finally) brings some core functions to the tablet that were missing when the slate was released in April 2010. That includes a dedicated email client with a unified inbox, calendar and contact apps, improved document editing and an updated BlackBerry Bridge. It will also run select Android apps.
The question for RIM is whether or not these updates will actually give consumers and enterprises incentive to buy the tablet. Most people’s minds were made up on the PlayBook last year and it is doubtful that a software update, no matter how badly it was needed, will entice new users. It has been 10 months since the original release and the reviews at launch were that the PlayBook was half-baked. Fully baked now, will consumers care?
BlackBerry PlayBook OS 2 will include the first release of Mobile Fusion, RIM’s mobile device management software that frees the BlackBerry Enterprise Server from being a RIM-only platform. Mobile Fusion will allow enterprises to manage devices from any manufacturer or platform provider. While it is interesting to see, it does not mean much in the grand scheme as it will only be available to BlackBerry smartphones and the PlayBook until the full release in late March.
The calendar app has social integration with the ability to update contact cards with real-time information from Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. Contacts have also become a social hub with information from the three social networks. This is a function analogous to those in the Android and Windows Phone, which automatically searches your social networks and email contacts and update contacts appropriately.
On the enterprise said, there are new document editing functions, a “Print To Go” app and deeper control of personal and business information with BlackBerry Balance. There is also a new keyboard that institutes SwiftKey-like auto correction and predictive word completion.
With all the new core functionality, the BlackBerry Bridge app that connects the tablet to a BlackBerry smartphone becomes an obsolete feature. The Bridge was intended to provide contacts, calendar and email to the PlayBook by attaching it to your BlackBerry smartphone and was a stopgap measure until these core functionalities were released. Bridge is now being featured as a “remote for your PlayBook” and a way to share content between your smartphone and the tablet.
The Bridge app was one of the poor decisions that RIM made when releasing the PlayBook. RIM executives, speaking last year before the tablet was released, said they believed the potential market for the PlayBook would be anybody that owned a BlackBerry smartphone. At the time, that was about 55 million people. The vision was to use smartphone sales to drive tablet sales and vice versa, but that proved not to be the case. By muffing the PlayBook’s original release with no native email and contacts support, the tablet was essentially doomed and users resented the fact that they had to have a RIM smartphone for such basic functionality. Bridge is now a feature as opposed to a necessity and that is the way it should have been from the beginning.
The biggest selling point for the PlayBook could now be the fact that it can run select Android apps. RIM promised Android functionality in March 2011 and delivers in February 2012. The addition of Android functionality (that RIM built itself as opposed to using a third-party system like Myriad’s Davlik) greatly increases the quantity of apps available to the PlayBook. This would have been a killer feature a year ago before we saw affordable Android tablets like the Amazon Kindle Fire hit the market. In April 2010 there was not yet an Android tablet worth its weight in salt and the PlayBook had potential to steal the market if it was released with Android functionality on top of all the goodness BlackBerry is known for. A year later, the PlayBook is an also-ran in the ecosystem.
One good thing we learn from PlayBook OS 2 is that BlackBerry 10 will likely be issued with all the features originally missing from the original QNX operating system. So, whenever RIM gets around to releasing a new BlackBerry smartphone running the QNX-based BlackBerry 10 it will likely have dedicated email, calendar, contacts and Android apps. That should be good news to BlackBerry fans that have not had much good news in the past several years.
BlackBerry PlayBook OS 2 is available for download today.