LAS VEGAS-Research In Motion used the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), arguably the tech world's highest-profile venue, to finally unveil the long-awaited software update for its PlayBook tablet.
Dubbed PlayBook OS 2.0, the software update includes features demanded by users when the 7-inch tablet made its initial debut in April 2011. In addition to integrated messaging and calendar apps, the PlayBook will also offer a Video Store with new releases for rent or purchase. There is a palette of tools for rich-text email composing and editing, as well as updated document-editing capabilities. A new "reading view" for the Web browser will offer a streamlined way to read online news articles or Websites with large amounts of text.
RIM plans on making the update available for download in February. The company itself is betting that a refreshed product line, including the introduction of so-called "superphones" running the QNX-based BlackBerry 10 operating system, will prevent its market share from sliding further in the face of aggressive competition from Apple's iPhone and a growing family of Google Android devices.
Until BlackBerry 10 arrives sometime in the second half of 2012, RIM is relying on BlackBerry devices loaded with BlackBerry 7 OS to hold the market-share line. Also in conjunction with CES here, RIM debuted BlackBerry 7.1 OS, which includes the ability to share information between two near-field communication (NFC)-enabled BlackBerry devices by touching them together.
As part of its renewed push, RIM is pushing third-party developers to create apps for its platforms. In a Jan. 10 interview with eWEEK, Alec Saunders, RIM's vice president of developer relations and ecosystem development, suggested that those developers working with HTML5 and WebWorks to create apps for the PlayBook will have relatively little trouble porting those apps to BlackBerry 10, once the latter hits the market. "You may need to make some tweaks, but your code base is preserved," he said.
However, apps developed using BlackBerry Java will not port onto BlackBerry 10, limiting developers working with those tools to BlackBerry 7 or older.
Despite some buzz heading into its release last year, the PlayBook faced an uphill battle for adoption in a marketplace dominated by Apple's iPad. In December, RIM announced it would take a $485 million charge against its PlayBook inventory, or $360 million after applicable taxes.
In a Dec. 2 statement, RIM cited "competitive dynamics of the tablet market" and the delay of the PlayBook OS 2.0 upgrade as the reasons behind the write-down. "The Company now believes that an increase in promotional activity is required to drive sell-through to end customers," the statement added. "RIM will record a provision that reflects the current market environment and allows it to expand upon the aggressive level of promotional activity."
Price cuts at stores like Best Buy over the holiday season induced customers to purchase the PlayBook in greater numbers than usual. The retailer managed to sell out its stock after it dropped the tablet's price to $199 and $299, respectively, for the 16GB and 32GB versions.
In the wake of that, and with the start of what will surely be a decisive and competitive year, RIM has been encouraging developers to create apps for the PlayBook platform, which in turn could help build a robust app ecosystem for upcoming BlackBerry 10 devices. It remains to be seen, however, if the new features of PlayBook OS 2.0 will persuade consumers to take the plunge.