PlayBook OS 2.0: Not too little, but likely too late
| by Ivor Soans
After promising in April 2011 that its BlackBerry PlayBook tablet would receive an update featuring native e-mail and support for Android applications in 60 days, yesterday Research in Motion finally delivered the updated OS, instead of yet another extension. In the interim, the company’s co-CEOs had to step down in the face of investor ire and promises of a whole new OS to power BlackBerry smartphones were also made and broken. While U.S customers walked away from RIM demanding that the once iconic brand should stay in tune with the times and deliver on new software and devices, all RIM actually did was change the name of its proposed OS from BBX to BlackBerry 10 after a legal snafu, and further delayed the launch of a new smartphone powered by the new OS, which remains promise ware.
And in between all of this, the company presided over a horrific 3-day outage that left its proud reputation for enterprise grade services in tatters, marquee corporate customers deserted the BlackBerry platform, and many are now willing to bet large sums of money that RIM already has one foot in the grave and it’s only a matter of time before the ship goes completely under.
Early PlayBook OS had shortcomings
Ergo, the release of PlayBook OS 2.0 is definitely a silver lining in the turbulent, inky dark, thundercloud-laden skies that RIM has been nose-diving through. There are celebrations afoot on BlackBerry fan sites.
But the question is - can PlayBook OS 2.0 change anything for RIM?
First up, let’s deal with the much vaunted Android app compatibility. In RIM’s press release this came last, and confused me because I always thought of the PlayBook as a great tablet with an anaemic lack of applications. One would think RIM would highlight plugging of the biggest hole, but all RIM’s press release said was: “...thousands of new apps are being added to BlackBerry App World today (including a range of Android apps that will run on the BlackBerry PlayBook).” That’s it. And perhaps that’s why the RIM press release put it last, because RIM didn’t provide any details on these ‘thousands’ of new apps. BlackBerry App World doesn’t have a section on new apps ported from Android and when I searched for apps I really didn’t come across any really well known Android apps.
A slight overlapping of the previous menu listings
I don’t want to pour cold water over the party, because this is something that will be clearer over the following weeks. And I’ve run the developer versions of PlayBook OS 2.0 for months now and have ‘sideloaded’ quite a few Android apps. While performance was a serious issue then, that was the developer beta and not official release of the apps—they were essentially files converted unofficially from the Android APK format to the PlayBook’s native BAR format. But the first signs of the final release don’t seem very encouraging with RIM not releasing a list of apps, and with not much visible on App World. I truly hope Android apps ported to the PlayBook OS will be responsive and work almost as well as native apps, as RIM had promised in the past, because I honestly believe this could change things completely for the PlayBook.
And for those of you who expect Android Market to appear on PlayBook OS 2.0, no—that was never the plan.
Next up, there’s an integrated e-mail client with a unified inbox that consolidates messages from e-mail accounts, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. The interface is nice, but what put me off is that I couldn’t connect my work e-mail account, running on MS Exchange. I had to use BlackBerry Bridge for that, and even then it wouldn’t show in the unified inbox, but in the Bridge inbox. Sigh! I also found that the app took a while to load-not like the smooth experience of OS 1.0.
RIM has the tech chops to make it happen, since the BlackBerry smartphone platform is perhaps the easiest to configure e-mail on, including work mail from MS Exchange, Lotus Notes, etc. The fact that RIM hasn’t been able to do so, underscores the problems in bringing together RIM’s legacy platform and the new OS based on QNX.
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