Kicking the Tires of OS 2.0 for Blackberry Playbook

When RIM first released the Blackberry PlayBook tablet, it was widely panned for not possessing some key ingredients critical to mobile device usage, such as native integrated email and calendar. It was, at first release,  a powerful device hindered by it’s not being able to stand alone elegantly, as Dan reported a while back. My interest in this has been more than academic. Thanks to Gear Diary at 5 (year) giveaways last year, months before I joined Gear Diary, this little PlayBook tablet fell into my hands. Limited, as Dan and others noted, but still a fine piece of mobile hardware, plus it was my first tablet.

Today, RIM has finally released the long promised update nearly 10 months after it was introduced with a laundry list of improvements.

Included are the following:

Includes the following new features:

  • Built-in messages app:
  • Unified inbox: see messages from all of your accounts in one place
  • HTML email composing and editing
  • Attachment downloads
  • Ability to perform multiple actions at once like bulk delete
  • Built-in calendar app:
  • Day, Week, Month and Agenda views
  • Growing numbers: numbers grow and shrink based on how busy you are
  • People view shows a contact-centric view of your calendar
  • Newsreel shows news about companies you’re meeting with
  • Built-in contacts app:
  • Access Facebook®, Twitter® and LinkedIn® contacts as well as personal and work contacts
  • Merging and de-duplication of contacts
  • Virtual keyboard enhancements:
  • Fluency engine: Full word prediction and correction
  • Support for auto capitalization and corrections of misspellings such as acn for can
  • Slimmer design to show more of the screen’s content
  • New BlackBerry Bridge™ features:
  • Wireless remote control: use a BlackBerry smartphone as an external keyboard and mouse for a connected PlayBook
  • Presenter remote: deliver and control slideshow presentations when the PlayBook is connected to a project or TV via HDMI
  • Open on PlayBook: seamlessly switch screens and invoke any BlackBerry Bridge app on the PlayBook tablet
  • Copy/paste in BlackBerry Bridge apps
  • Print to Go:
  • Wirelessly print from a laptop or PC directly to the PlayBook
  • View, sort and manage digital files as though they were physical sheets of paper
  • Support for Android™ applications
  • Home screen management with customizable panes and folders, and the ability to pick six of your most frequently used applications for the dock
  • Browser reader mode: provides an optimal reading experience by removing ads and the surrounding site, enhancing the font size and displaying text in a cleaner format
  • Video Chat:
  • Improved UI
  • Integration with contacts app: provides a filtered view of video chat contacts
  • Contact availability: identify if a specific contact is available for a video chat
  • Invite based on PIN or email
  • Initiate video chat directly from the contacts, calendar or messages apps
  • Display a video chat on an external screen via an HMDI connection
  • Security update for Samba file sharing service

So, at 7:04 EST this morning, I checked for the long-awaited update. There it was!

After completing the download and restarting, my home screen went from this:

to this:

As can be seen in the screenshot, there are no more All, Favorites, Media, Games and Blackberry Bridge tabs,  and the PlayBook now sports a thinner and tighter top bar and icon arrangement. In place of the item tabs, Blackberry has adopted a folder creation  and dock schema, similar to Apple’s on their iOS 5.x devices.

Simply hold down an icon until it starts pulsing, drag it over another icon, and a Create Folder dialog will appear where you can assign the new folder a name:

You can also drag an icon into the dock area, for example, Documents to Go (next to the revamped App World):

Note the email notification that mirrors message notifications on Blackberry phones. That leads me to the next major improvement: integrated standalone email. Prior to the OS upgrade, one had to use either a browser shortcut to the web interface of certain email providers, or use Blackberry Bridge to receive emails via the attached Blackberry phone. Not really convenient if you just wanted to use the tablet by itself. With OS 2, you can now add email accounts as you would to any other mobile device. Simply tap on Messages (or the Settings sprocket icon in the top right of the status bar) and get to the Accounts screen:

Email, Facebook, Twitter and even LinkedIn are present here, integrated to enable users to keep abreast of various contact status updates in different areas. Calendars and contact information can be synched per account as desired.

Note the keyboard has been updated so that in certain applications the numeric keys are available, saving an extra keystroke or two.

Presto! A new Gear Diary account on my Playbook!

Here is the new email layout:

By default, all messages are first shown in a common inbox. By clicking the envelope below the search icon, users can select a specific email account to browse. PlayBook Messaging/Emails support rich text formating, a welcome feature for more colorful emails.

Another new major addition is Calendar, and like the iPad and HP Touchpad now supports multiple calendars from a single view as well, whether from a monthly view, weekly view, or daily view.

Default monthly view is shown here, and users can show various calendars from various email accounts. Swiping from the top bezel allows users to choose the calendar of choice.

Calendar items to be added and assigned to a given calendar, including a local one:

Another nice system feature added is a native File Manager application:

From here, users can select items from the default Documents folder, and also Pictures, Video and Music folders.

A big, albeit perhaps largely “hidden” feature of OS 2 for PlayBook is Android support.  Finally!!! Users likely won’t see this due to the Android virtual machine quietly running Android apps ported to the Blackberry App World, which itself as been updated from the previous carousel-type layout.

As more and more Android apps get ported it will be interesting to see how much more interest is generated for the PlayBook.

To be sure, mine is a brief survey of the recent major updates to the PlayBook. It is disappointing, for example, that the native Video Chat app, while improved from its previous incarnation, still is limited to other PlayBook users. Far better would have been the ability to communicate via Skype. (Skype, where are you?). These updates will certainly improve the lifespan of the current PlayBooks out there, and perhaps trigger some interest in the unit moving forward, assuming RIM can get some major marketing underway, and one wonders what the tablet landscape might have looked like had RIM included these features from the start, rather than cede some market share to Android tablet developers and of course Apple as well. As for the future of Blackberry devices in US markets, only time will tell. I do know for my part OS 2 makes my PlayBook vastly more useful, and with its still fairly beefy hardware, performance and now standalone capability I am sure I will be using it even more and becoming more productive with it.

How about you?  Will the OS 2 update change your view of the device? For those that do not possess one, with the right price point, will you be tempted to pick on up?

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