PlayBook OS 2.0 – Oh dear

Yesterday RIM released an update to its PlayBook tablet’s operating system, a long delayed update that would rectify many of the problems that crippled the product’s launch a year ago. To see CBR’s full rundown of the new functions, click here.

Rushed to market to compete against Apple’s iPad, it lacked messaging, contact management and scheduling software – a key reason for its failure.

One year on… what exactly has the PlayBook team been spending its time doing?

PlayBook OS Version 2.0 doesn’t really seem to add an awful lot – I can’t for the life of me understand why it took a year to produce. There are a few tweaks here and there, but at best these additions bring it up to speed with the competition circa April 2011 – yes, that would be the Playbook’s original launch date.

The long awaited email client and calendar functionality is included as promised, but this is not RIM’s proprietary BlackBerry Enterprise Server we’re talking about here – it uses Microsoft Exchange Activesync and other third party clients – just the same as any other smartphone or tablet on the market.

Given the whole point of a BlackBerry is its secure email functionality, the omission of BES compatibility a year ago was incompetent. Its exclusion now beggars belief.

Has the Playbook become some kind of tax loophole for the company? I joke of course, but this is so suspect that if I was an early adopter I would consider RIMs behaviour here borderline fraud. I think it’s safe to assume that anyone listening to former CEOs Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie discuss this v2.0 update across 2011, that full BES email functionality was to be included. Full stop.

RIM is claiming that this functionality will now be made available through its BlackBerry Mobile Fusion platform, due to launch next month.

Sure you can still access BlackBerry email by tethering your BlackBerry mobile phone to the PlayBook – but doesn’t that defeat the purpose of a separate device?

Tablets are at home in someone’s lap, on the bus, in front of the TV, even walking along an assembly line working. Having to tether a mobile phone to it kills that versatility.

As daft as it sounds, it is now actually easier, and makes more sense, for users to check their email on a PlayBook using a rival company’s e-mail software, than it is using its own IP.

The tragedy is that I personally prefer the PlayBook’s operating system out of all the tablets available. It’s powerful, easy to use and attractive. It has the best web browser. It has a great camera and video conferencing set up. Movies look great, and the device feels great in the hands.

It is, however, empty. Its lack of apps and a nonexistent product ecosystem are inexcusable. Like a Ferrari without upholstery, it is beautiful and hyper functional, but ultimately broken and unfinished.

To quote the (fictional) Tony Wilson’s paraphrasing of William Morris in the film 24 Hour Party People: "Nothing useless can ever be truly beautiful."

Yes, there are more apps than a year ago – and RIM has worked very hard to draw developers to the platform, but there are still no superstar apps that provide proof of concept for the device.

It barely has the apps to provide equal pegging with the competitition. Despite its great dual camera set up, still no Skype. I can’t think of anyone else with a PlayBook to even test its proprietary video chat functions. Therefore – that hardware feature set is effectively non-functional.

Despite its wonderful screen – no major newspapers have apps (excluding the Canadians’, who are fulfilling national pride). The only e-book reader offered is Kobo, which is a long way behind every other e-book company – many of which are releasing their own tablets.

The games offerings are limited, and available elsewhere already. It is still an app store riddled with junk, such as farting apps (yes, really).

A key part of the update was the addition of an Android app emulator. Surely this is more of an admission of failure than it is a positive to be celebrated. After all, why not then just buy an Android device? This has been well discussed; but it is also worth remembering it is not compatible with Android Ice Cream Sandwich apps.

The new video store is currently only available in the US.

The update also makes the previously buttery-smooth OS chug slightly, especially when flicking between several open windows. Even the OS seems to know the hardware is old and tired – which it is by the way. April 2011 is several generations of tablet technology old.

Samsung is already up to its second Galaxy Tab, and Apple is closing in on its third generation iPad – rumoured to be launching in a couple of weeks. Both are running dual core processors (minimum). The Playbook is a dinosaur.

The main reason the PlayBook has managed to shift any units at all has been its extreme price slashing before Christmas. A 16-gigabyte version sells for £190 on Amazon. This of course led to RIM taking a $485m writedown.

There is still no real reason to own a PlayBook when you can get the same quality of experience from any other tablet, for cheaper and in more secure product ecosystems.

The coup-de-grace: it now takes 2 minutes 25 seconds to turn on.

[correction: This article originally noted that the Playbook was a single core processor, it is dual-core]

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