TORONTO, Feb 21 (Reuters) - Research in Motion released a long-delayed software update for its PlayBook tablet on Tuesday, hoping to give a fresh start to the unloved device and pave the path for its next-generation BlackBerry smartphones.
RIM's PlayBook 2.0 software, unveiled last month, adds a in-built email function to the device, addressing what critics says was a big shortcoming of the original version, launched in April to scathing reviews.
It also gives the tablet the ability to run applications written for devices powered by Google's Android operating system, a tacit acknowledgement by the company that developers have not created enough RIM-specific apps.
The device, which runs on RIM's new QNX-based operating system, sets the blueprint for the first QNX-based BlackBerrys, due to launch toward the end of this year.
The Waterloo, Ontario-based company hopes to the upgrade will lead developers to create more apps for QNX before the launch of the new BlackBerrys, something that analysts consider crucial if RIM hopes to make up lost ground to devices made by Apple and those powered by Android.
RIM sold just 850,000 PlayBooks to the end of November, and was forced to slash prices on the tablet. By comparison Apple Inc sold 15.4 million iPad tablets in its latest quarter.
The company also took a $485 million hit to write down the value of unsold PlayBook inventory after the sharp discounts.
The PlayBook software update, initially slated for last summer, will also feature a new BlackBerry video store and enhanced web browsing capabilities.
The botched PlayBook launch fueled growing investor pressure that culminated with a decision by RIM's co-chief executives Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie to step down last month and hand over the reins to Thorsten Heins, a former Siemens AG executive who joined RIM back in late 2007.
The pair, who built the BlackBerry maker into a household name, weathered a storm of criticism in recent years as Apple's iPhone and the army of devices powered by Google's Android system eclipsed their email-focused BlackBerry.
Shares of RIM, which have tumbled close to 80 percent over the last year, were up 10 cents at C$15.12 on Tuesday on the Toronto Stock Exchange.