BlackBerry PlayBook OS 2.0: Too little, too late?

Research In Motion has delivered a new OS that brings a native e-mail client to its tablet. Will these improvements boost sales?

RIM's BlackBerry PlayBook tablet

RIM's BlackBerry PlayBook tablet

Almost a year after the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet was introduced, Research In Motion has delivered a new OS that brings a native e-mail client to the device. PlayBook OS 2.0 is probably what the first iteration of the tablet should have been, but a year later, the improvements might not be enough for the device to succeed.

Initial reviews of the 7-inch BlackBerry Playbook did not criticize the device’s hardware; it was the software that was the problem. A tablet from a company known for its e-mail communication services lacked a native e-mail client, a healthy app ecosystem, and even a potentially killer feature that was promised: the ability to run Android apps.

Fast-forward 11 months later and PlayBook OS 2.0 is here, available as a free over the air upgrade. The update brings native e-mail with a unified inbox, contact and calendar apps, a video store app, and the BlackBerry Bridge 2.0 app allows a BlackBerry smartphone to be used a remote control for the tablet.

There’s also social networking (Facebook and Twitter) integration, a file manager, folders for apps and improved Web browsing, and RIM said thousands of Android-specific apps will be added to the BlackBerry App World, which can the run in the new Runtime environment. The keyboard was improved as well, with auto correction and predictive text completion.

Too little, too late?

The software was what let down the PlayBook, and it showed it sales: last year the company shipped — not sold — some 800,000 tablets, many of which gathered dust in warehouse shelves as RIM tried to flog them with various price cuts and discounts throughout the year.

From the initial price of $500, you can buy a new 16GB PlayBook for just over $200 on Amazon, and the $700 64GB model is just $321. Those prices, combined with the fresh software update, could push the sales of the tablet (that’s actually a good price for the specs compared to an $200 Amazon Kindle Fire tablet), but it’s probably too late.

Those who wanted an inexpensive 7-inch tablet that can do e-mail, apps, video, music already got one — the Kindle Fire is the number two tablet by sales (more than 3 million) in just a few months since release, which is ironic considering Amazon used the PlayBook hardware base for the Fire.

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