Research In Motion is using its BlackBerry World 2011 conference to tout several new additions to its PlayBook tablet. But can these updates increase adoption of the device, which faces substantial competition from Apple's iPad and the growing family of Google Android devices?
Those additions include Video Chat and a Facebook app. The latter could appeal to those users obsessed with keeping up-to-date on their friends' and colleagues' latest postings, and the former is necessary in a tablet market where seemingly every device-including Apple's iPad 2-comes equipped with front- and rear-facing cameras.
Early reviews of the PlayBook complained the device felt half-baked. It was missing a native email app-a major oversight in the eyes of some reviewers, who cited RIM's long history of producing devices with tight messaging integration-and lacked the built-in 3G connection present in many tablets currently on the market. The PlayBook's BlackBerry Bridge allows the tablet to display emails and other information from a nearby BlackBerry-a nice perk for any company that's already a RIM shop, but useless to anyone who owns an Android, iOS or Windows Phone device.
RIM claims it will eventually add a native email client, contacts, a calendar and similar features. Until that day, those with Hotmail, Yahoo Mail, Gmail and AOL Mail accounts can only access their email via icons on the PlayBook's home screen that open Websites for those respective services.
Given the extraordinary evolution of the tablet market, with significant software updates for all platforms seemingly available weekly or monthly, and RIM's need to quickly scale the PlayBook into a major presence, the impetus is on the company to deliver additions like native email sooner rather than later. In the days before the PlayBook's wide release, eWEEK's review unit downloaded and installed a 295MB software update; another major update added "SETUP" and "POWER OFF" icons to the home screen, in addition to some possible under-the-hood tweaks.
Early reviews also pointed to RIM's lack of apps for the PlayBook platform. Although App World is populated with enough productivity apps and games to give most users a start on populating their device, RIM lags far behind Apple and Google in terms of number of apps on offer. The introduction of Android apps could rapidly change the equation, although that would alienate any developers who devoted resources to creating RIM apps-a price that RIM's management may be willing to pay if it means broader adoption for its hardware.
In light of all that, it seems unlikely that either video or Facebook is the "killer app" that RIM needs to help drive PlayBook adoption. That being said, though, RIM could make additional announcements that will round out the tablet's feature set. But when will those features arrive on the device?