RIM's PlayBook gets email with software upgrade

Tue Feb 21, 2012 3:16pm EST
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By Alastair Sharp and Euan Rocha

TORONTO (Reuters) - Research In Motion on Tuesday gave its PlayBook tablet computer the ability to handle email as easily as a BlackBerry does, with new software that eliminates a shortcoming that has throttled sales since the PlayBook launched last April.

Before the software update, which came months after RIM initially promised, a user had to tether the tablet to a BlackBerry to get email, robbing the PlayBook of the function that made RIM's smartphones an essential business tool.

"It's what the first Playbook software should have been from a company which stakes its brand on messaging strength, with tightly integrated calendar, email, and contacts," said Frost and Sullivan analyst Craig Cartier.

The tablet, which RIM has had to discount heavily to boost flagging sales, is the first RIM device to run on the company's new QNX-based operating system.

As such it provides the blueprint for the first QNX-based BlackBerry, due by the end of the year. For that reason, the future of the company may hinge on the tablet's success, analysts say.

The Waterloo, Ontario-based company needs to have more applications available before the new phones, powered by QNX software called BlackBerry 10, hit the market. It hopes the PlayBook upgrade will encourage developers to get started.

That's crucial if the company that virtually invented the smartphone hopes to make up ground lost in recent years to Apple Inc's iPhone and iPad, and a host of devices powered by Goggle's Android, analysts say.

"RIM appears to have re-positioned PlayBook from a standalone profit center at launch (at $499) to an investment to build and seed developer interest in its next-generation platform ahead of the launch of BlackBerry 10 later this year," RBC Capital Markets analyst Mike Abramsky said in a note to clients.   Continued...

A conference attendee examines the BlackBerry PlayBook during its launch in Mumbai June 22, 2011. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui