BlackBerry Tablet got a E-Mail Application

Tuesday, February 21st 2012. | Software News

rim-articleLargeResearch in Motion, the company that introduced wireless e-mail to the world, on Tuesday finally brought e-mail to its tablet computer, the BlackBerry PlayBook.

The e-mail application is one of several additions to the second version of the PlayBook’s operating system, which became available as a no-cost download early Tuesday morning. There was considerable surprise last April that the PlayBook, the company’s answer to the Apple iPad, initially could send or receive e-mails only by being connected to a BlackBerry phone.

The much-delayed upgrade that corrects that omission also allows the PlayBook to run some apps developed for devices that use Google’s Android operating system. And it includes some novel features for automatically integrating information and messages from social media sites, including Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, with its e-mail, calendar and contact apps.

With the software upgrade, owners of BlackBerry phones will also be able to use the familiar keyboard on their handsets as a physical keyboard for the PlayBook through a wireless connection.

While several analysts welcomed the arrival of the new operating system, they were also skeptical that it would make RIM a significant force in the tablet computer market or inspire consumers to wait for a new, and also delayed, line of phones that will use similar software.

“It probably puts a couple of fingers in the dike,” said Mike Abramsky, an analyst with RBC Capital Markets, a unit of the Royal Bank of Canada. “While many of the updates are nice, albeit late, there isn’t much to differentiate it from Android and iPad tablets.”

Tero Kuittinen, a senior analyst at M.G.I. Research, said that the changes would not be sufficient for the PlayBook to compete successfully with the third generation of the iPad, which is expected in March, or devices like Amazon’s Kindle Fire.

“Nothing matters anymore; it’s over,” he said. “It’s going to be fairly impossible for RIM to do anything.”

While the new software plugs the biggest gaps in the PlayBook, it nevertheless failed to bring all of the features found on BlackBerry phones to the PlayBook. Most notably, the upgrade lacks BlackBerry Messenger, RIM’s instant messaging service. Several RIM executives, including Thorsten Heins, the new chief executive, have repeatedly said that BlackBerry Messenger was one of the most popular and important features on its phones. The company has been vague about the reasons for its continued absence on the PlayBook.

Compared to Android-based tablets and Apple’s iPad, the PlayBook offered relatively few apps. Its new ability to run Android apps should help overcome that disadvantage. But only Android apps that have been submitted by developers to RIM and then made available through an online BlackBerry app store will work with the PlayBook.

Sebastien Marineau-Mes, a senior vice president for BlackBerry software at QNX Software Systems, the RIM unit that developed the operating system, said most Android apps would work on the PlayBook without any modification. RIM, however, restricts Android apps from performing some functions that could create security concerns.

Despite the PlayBook’s name, RIM has long said that it intended to heavily promote the tablet to corporations, governments and other institutional users. That enterprise market, as it is known to the electronics industry, was the original customer base for BlackBerry phones.

But enterprise users that want the data security offered by BlackBerry phones on the PlayBook must purchase and install additional software on their servers. Some analysts say that this can be a costly and complex process for many companies, which may limit the PlayBook’s appeal in that market.

Now that RIM has eliminated some of the PlayBook’s software shortcomings, the company is still challenged to find a way to sell that tablet at a profit.

After finding little initial interest from consumers, RIM increased PlayBook sales by cutting prices of different models by as much as $300. Mr. Abramsky said that the resulting prices, which are as low as $200 for some models, meant that RIM was losing about $200 on every PlayBook it sold. He estimates that just the parts used to make the devices cost the company $205 to $271, depending on the model.

RIM may, however, be forced to continue to offer PlayBooks at a loss through at least the remainder of this year. The same operating system is the basis of the BlackBerry 10 operating system that RIM’s new phones will use. The phones are expected at the end of 2012, although Mr. Marineau-Mes declined to provide any more specific details.

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