Playbook 2.0: Less play, more work

By John Lim
February 24, 2012

The software update brings the email functionality that was omitted during the Playbook’s launch.The software update brings the email functionality that was omitted during the Playbook’s launch.KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 24 — This week saw the launch of the BlackBerry PlayBook 2.0 software update, packaging within it functions that many felt should have been there when the tablet first launched last year. The over-the-air update, which is automatically downloaded to current owners, is a major improvement, but is it enough to convince you to buy one?

The big plusses

There are a number of significant additions in PlayBook 2.0 over the original software release, but most consumers would be impressed by two things: the improved contact list and messaging apps. The new Contact app allows you to pull in information from various social media sources, including Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Now, instead of just seeing a person’s e-mail and phone number, you are presented with an all-in-one information page containing Facebook status updates, Tweets, scheduled appointments, common friends, and a CV.

The iPad remains the dominant player in the tablet space. — Reuters picThe iPad remains the dominant player in the tablet space. — Reuters picInterestingly, too, PlayBook 2.0 has added a newsfeed section within Contacts that allows you to scan the latest headlines regarding the contact’s employer. So, for instance, if you see Kevin from Microsoft, you can pull up the latest news headlines, and start up a conversation by going “Hey, so I heard the latest about Windows 8, etc. etc. blah blah blah.” You can see how helpful the new app could be in network parties where you barely recognise Tom from Dick.

The unified inbox in the new Messaging app does more than just email, as it now bakes in social networks like Facebook and Twitter besides email services. So when you compose a message, you can send it as either a Facebook message, a direct message on Twitter, or regular email. Strangely, its own killer social app, BlackBerry Messenger, has been excluded from this unified messaging inbox.

Email addicts would also love the PlayBook. Not only can you do basic formatting (bold, italics, font changes, etc), but you can also compose multiple e-mails at the same time —  functions that are lacking from the Apple iPad.  

It was curious to see how Research in Motion (RIM) is becoming more focused on the 30- to 40-something businessman with this update. During its media presentation, little emphasis, if any, went into showing off how well the tablet plays Need For Speed. In its place is the idea that the Playbook makes a great workplace companion.

Would you buy it

It wouldn’t be possible to judge the PlayBook’s success without addressing the oversized mammoth in the room — the iPad, which practically holds a monopoly in the tablet space. This dominance even extends into the enterprise space, which is where RIM is hoping the PlayBook would succeed in.

Yes, the PlayBook is a robust piece of hardware, and the operating system is a joy to work with, especially when multi-tasking, but the BlackBerry App World remains bare compared to Apple’s App Store or Google’s Market. RIM has emphasised that Android apps can be easily ported over for the PlayBook within minutes, and is pushing for the development for native applications — but as far as the regular consumer is concerned, it’s hardly a contest between the PlayBook and iPad.

As it stands, the PlayBook would appeal to a market that: (1) doesn’t see a tablet as a lifestyle device, (2) owns a BlackBerry handset, and (3) is rich enough to not view the iPad and PlayBook as an either/or purchasing option.

The ability to use the BlackBerry handset to type out documents, send e-mails, and act as a remote control via BlackBerry Bridge is a plus, but   it’s hardly a deciding point for consumers who would only buy one tablet device.

And for those who already have a PlayBook? Well, they can now finally smile and say, “It’s about effing time.”