BlackBerry PlayBook OS 2.1 Update Now Available

Remember the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet from RIM? While the tablet did not really set the sales chart on fire, it did find a few takers later on, thanks to a steep fall in its price.

RIM has been doing a pretty commendable job of keeping its small PlayBook user base happy with regular software updates. Starting from today, RIM has started rolling out the BlackBerry PlayBook OS 2.1 update for the tablet.

The update adds tons of new enterprise related features, along with more apps and content. However, the three major changes brought about by the OS 2.1 update are as follows -:

  1. Updated BlackBerry Bridge: Now you can view, respond and compose new SMS messages on their BlackBerry PlayBook Tablet when connected to a BlackBerry smartphone over Bluetooth®. You’ll also enjoy increased performance and speed of other BlackBerry Bridge functions as well. So you can do more, more efficiently. Txt away, my friends.
  2. Email and PIM Enhancements: You’ve asked for it and we’ve delivered portrait support for email, calendar and contacts, giving you the option to use your tablet in either orientation to message. This will definitely come in handy for those of you who enjoy thumb typing in portrait mode like I do.
  3. Improved Android Application Support: Includes Multi-Window Applications, Camera Support and In-App Payments. We all love a richer app experience, and with the improvements to the Android runtime, that’s just what you’ll get. Running the applications in separate windows allows you to multi-task between Android apps easier, and in-app payments will make it easier for you to enhance your app content. Game on!

Owners of the Wi-Fi variant of the PlayBook can already pull the update from RIM’s server by going to Settings -> Software Updates and then selecting the “Check for updates” option. The update for the 4G LTE variant of the tablet will be available, once it is approved by the carriers.

RIM Publishes Guidelines To Make Your Android App Ready For the PlayBook

RIM (Research-In-Motion) has announced via its official developers blog that the upcoming OS update for the PlayBook will allow users to run Android apps on it.

The blog post from RIM explains all the necessary steps Android app developers need to take, so that their app runs properly on the PlayBook and gets listed on the BlackBerry App World.

Below are some of the recommended changes which RIM suggests developer do -:

  • Before submitting your Android application to BlackBerry App World, please make sure to remove all mention of the word “Android” from your application. Both in the application description and the application itself.
  • Please remove all links to Android Market from within your application.
  • When submitting your Android application to BlackBerry App World, please make sure to select a minimum BlackBerry PlayBook OS of 2.0.
  • Please make sure your application is signed. For more information on code signing, please view the code signing documentation on the BlackBerry Runtime for Android Apps webpage (linked here).

RIM has also released some plug-ins which will help developers in converting their app from an APK to BAR format.

It will be interesting to see how Android apps perform on the Playbook, and if the ability to run Android apps will boost the sales of the tablet at all.

BlackBerry PlayBook OS Update Pushed to 2012

If you were waiting for the PlayBook to get an update to OS2.0 before actually being useful, unfortunately you’ll have to continue waiting.

While RIM is going against all odds and continuing to provide support for the PlayBook, the shiny brick won’t be getting the expected update to OS 2.0 until February of 2012. It’s not the recently announced BBX, but it is supposed to be a fairly large upgrade for existing users. It wouldn’t be a product from Research in Motion if it didn’t ship missing crucial features, would it? Of course not, so it’s very fitting that RIM has decided to leave BBM (BlackBerry Messenger) support out of the update. That’s right, it’s going to take an additional 4 months of work before the system is polished up, but it still won’t have their proprietary instant messaging functionality. Feel free to purchase a new $500 (likely) BlackBerry to accompany your $700 PlayBook so you can use BBM with it. That’s a pretty good option, right?Maybe news of RIM doling out a couple of hundred PlayBooks loaded with OS 2.0 beta might make you feel better. Developers and any other DevCon attendees were given a new PlayBook. So, technical journalists, hobbyists and other random kids got them, but not paying customers. Members of the BlackBerry Early Access Program will also be getting closed betas of 2.0 shortly, this is mainly for tackling Enterprise support and integration.

In a post to the Inside BlackBerry Blog, Senior VP of BlackBerry PlayBook at RIM, David Smith gives a few reasons for the delay and lack of features upon launch.

First off, we have decided to defer the inclusion of the BBMâ„¢ application to a subsequent BlackBerry PlayBook OS release. We are committed to developing a seamless BBM solution that fully delivers on the powerful, push based messaging capabilities recognized today by BlackBerry ® users around the world and we’re still working on it. In the meantime, BlackBerry smartphone users will be able to continue to use BlackBerry ® Bridgeâ„¢ to securely access BlackBerry ® Messengerâ„¢ on the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet’s high resolution display.

These betas will be rolled out over the course of this year and are an important next step to bringing our unmatched enterprise app deployment, device manageability, security and email integration capabilities to the tablet category.

There is a bit of good news in the tidbit. When OS 2.0 does pop around for download, it will bring integrated email, calendar and contacts. Your “business ready” tablet, isn’t exactly business ready at all, but it soon will be.

The software update will add advanced integrated email, calendar and contact apps, a new video store, as well as new functionality that will allow your BlackBerry smartphone and BlackBerry PlayBook to work together even better.

Hopefully this means a few software managers at RIM got slapped with a trout and are now starting to put actual work into the PlayBook. Their half-assed Android Player isn’t going to bring any new customers, so hopefully the brand spanking new OS, BBX, will make it to smartphones by February with the new PlayBook OS in tow.

Is RIM Killing the Blackberry Playbook? Update: Nope, It Isn’t!

The tablet market is getting increasingly competitive. Apple, the first major entrant in the tablet market, is still ruling it with a market share of around 80%. Android hasn’t yet been able to replicate its smartphone success in tablets just yet, and Microsoft is yet to enter the tablet market. It will launch Windows 8 only in 2012, and risks being late to the party.

Amazon launched a new $199 Android tablet — the Kindle Fire — yesterday, which is expected to change the game. In my opinion, it will kill off any competition in the low end of the tablet market which is currently dominated by Chinese OEMs, while affecting iPad sales only marginally.

Blackberry Playbook

RIM which foolishly priced its lackluster offering — the Blackberry Playbook — at the same price as the iPad, has been seeing continually dropping sales. Last quarter, it shipped just 200,000 tablets, which is about the number that Apple sells in a couple of days.

With Amazon’s Kindle Fire, RIM is starting to feel the heat, and according to a report by BGR, it has finally pulled the plug on the Blackberry Playbook. Sources at Quanta, RIM’s manufacturing partner reveal that it has laid off a lot of workers working on the Playbook, essentially halting the production of the tablet. While RIM hasn’t confirmed the news, it seems quite plausible.

I hope RIM holds a firesale for its remaining Playbook inventory too, just like HP did for the TouchPad. I would definitely buy one for $99.

Update from WSJ: Apparently, RIM isn’t killing the Playbook. In an email statement, it said that the report was “pure fiction”, and that it “remains highly committed to the tablet market.”

What You Can’t Run on the Blackberry Playbook’s Android Emulator: Pretty Much Everything

When RIM announced the Blackberry Playbook, it also said that it would support one nifty feature — an Android emulator. It said that the Blackberry Playbook would be able to run Android apps in an emulated run-time environment. This was one of the most highly anticipated features of the Playbook, which would allow Playbook users to use all Android apps on their devices.

Since it was obvious that the Playbook wasn’t going to attract enough developer support to build a large library of apps, this was a nice way to attract consumers by piggy-backing off Android huge app library. However, it wasn’t available when the Playbook launched.

Recently, RIM announced that it would be launching the Blackberry runtime for Android apps soon, hoping to breathe some life into the dying Playbook, which shipped just 200,000 units last quarter to manufacturers.

It was a moment to rejoice, for all users of the Blackberry Playbook around the world — a grand total of around 673. However, some things are just not meant to be. Today, RIM announced some more details about the runtime emulator for Android apps, specifically which features would be unavailable to Android apps running on the emulator.

Here is a laundry list of some significant Android features which will not be supported by the Playbook, rendering certain types of apps useless.

  • Apps using live wallpapers
  • Apps using SIP and SIP VOIP protocols
  • Apps built using the NDK
  • Apps containing only app widgets
  • Apps containing more than more than one Launcher activity
  • Apps using Google Maps
  • Apps using in-app billing
  • Apps using Android’s text-to-speech engine
  • Apps using Android’s cloud-to-device messaging system

We all knew that running Android apps on the emulator in a Playbook was going to be a crappy experience, exactly as running low resolution smartphone apps on a high resolution tablet display using a software emulator ought to be. However, with all these types of apps not supported, you have a significant number of apps which make Android awesome completely incompatible with the Playbook.

There is no reason anyone should want to buy a Blackberry Playbook now, unless RIM does a firesale and starts selling it for $99 like HP.

Screw you, RIM. You messed up the one thing on the Playbook that we looked forward to.

RIM Reports Q2 Results: Revenues Down, Only 200K Playbooks Shipped

Research in Motion just announced their Q2 FY2012 results for the quarter ended August 27, 2011, and they seem to indicate just what everyone suspected.

Its revenue in the second quarter dropped to $4.2 billion, down 15% from the last quarter and down 10% from Q2 2010. Its net income has dropped to just $329 million, less than half what it was in the last quarter.

Blackberry smartphone shipments dropped to 10.6 million, while Playbook shipments were just 200,000. It’s very likely that this number is the number of Playbooks shipped to retailers, and not actual sales. Compared to the sales of the Apple iPad, this is a laughable figure.

The results have been much lower than expectations. Investors have started dumping the stock already, with $RIMM down more than 18% in after-hours trading.

Rumors suggest that the Blackberry Playbook may soon be going the HP Touchpad way. Blackberry is banking on its new OS 7 devices to boost sales in the next quarter, but that seems to be a remote possibility for now. It seems that RIM’s future depends on the success of the QNX platform that it plans to launch in 2012.

You can download the earnings release for Q2 FY12 here – Research In Motion Reports Second Quarter Fiscal 2012 Results

Lenovo Throws Their ThinkPad Tablet Into The Mix

With tablets being the talk of the town recently, thanks to HP liquidating their TouchPad for $99 after killing off webOS, Lenovo has decided to finally announce and release their ThinkPad Tablet. Although Lenovo has had the IdeaPad series of tablets available for quite some time, the new instalment brings along the well-known “ThinkPad” brand and markets it directly to the the business crowd.

 

Built atop Android 3.1, it brings along corporate-centric software such as Documents To Go, Citrix Receiver and PrinterShare. The ThinkPad Tablet even goes to the extent of bundling McAfee’s Mobile Security package for Android in an obvious attempt to appeal to upper management. Full device and SD card encryption is supported, along with anti-theft software and remote device disabling.

With Android pushing the ARMs race, it should come as no surprise that the ThinkPad Tablet continues along with the trend.

  • NVIDIA Tegra 2 Dual-Core 1GHz Processor
  • 1GB LPDDR2 RAM
  • 10.1 WXGA (1280×800) 16:10 IPS screen with Corning Gorilla Glass
  • 5 megapixel rear-facing camera
  • 2 megapixel front-facing camera
  • Up to 64GB of storage
  • Bluetooth, WiFi and 3G connectivity
  • Native USB 2.0 and micro-USB ports, full-size SD card slot and mini-HDMI output

The tablet also brings along 3 accessories for maximising productivity. The Tablet Dock is as it sounds, a dock that stands the device up to provide easy viewing angles and port extension. The Keyboard Folio packs a case and physical keyboard all into one. The Tablet Pen allows for fine-tuned pressure-sensitive precision on the capacitive multi-touch display.

The Wi-Fi-only version of the ThinkPad Tablet is priced unusually high. $499, $569 and $669 for the 16GB, 32GB and 64GB devices, respectively. Lenovo plans to integrate mobile broadband into the next version of the tablets to allow for 3G connectivity.

It’s nice to see that ThinkPad continues its styling and design in the tablet instead of straying to provide an iPad look-a-like. Targeted mainly towards the business professional, a market where the only competitor is the BlackBerry PlayBook, the ThinkPad Tablet certainly has clear advantages over consumer devices. Both RIM and Lenovo have strong ties to the corporate world through existing products, and with HP no longer pushing their TouchPad, it’s become an even smaller space to compete.

PlayBook App Player For Android Apps Appears

What was promised by Research in Motion, back before the launch of the PlayBook, was apps…Android apps at that. The PlayBook launched and immediately took a vertical nosedive due to missing important features such as a native e-mail, calendar and even contact support. The spotlight was quickly taken away while RIM fended off anonymous employee letters describing their downfall.  It’s hard to imagine things are about to change with leaked software, especially when  employees are  moving to competitors.

The well talked about, but never seen, ‘Android app player’ for the PlayBook has been leaked by N4BB, a BlackBerry enthusiast site. In what can only be described as a “boneheaded move” by RIM, pertinent package information containing links to the unreleased player were stored within an easily accessed file for an update to their desktop managing software.

The app player provides a secure chrooted environment containing Dalvik runtimes to allow the PlayBook to seamlessly run supported Android applications atop their QNX platform. The technology works extremely similar to Myriad’s Alien Dalvik  which was demoed on a Nokia N900 in February at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

Although it is a poor substitute for actual native applications, leveraging the ecosystem of a competitor is a move that has many analysts curious as to what is going on inside RIM. A good experience with Android apps on the PlayBook may drive users to purchase one of the many Android tablets available, tossing away their mediocre BlackBerry paperweight. On the other had, a poor experience with Android apps on the PlayBook will leave users shaking their hands on the way to purchase a real Android tablet, again, tossing away their mediocre BlackBerry paperweight. RIM has some serious decisions to make as to their future.

If you’re one of the (un) lucky few with a PlayBook, the leaked file is hosted on servers managed by RIM, so if you’re planning on getting the “real deal” make sure you act fast before it’s pulled. Hosting mirrors will allow you to get it no matter what, while keeping RIM busy, but to be sure you’re getting a vetted installer, you might want to wait until it’s publicly available.

Via N4BB

RIM Senior Product Manager Defecting To Samsung As Marketing Director

In a bizarre yet carefully calculated move, Ryan Bidan, Senior Product Manager at Research in Motion, has announced he will be leaving RIM for a position with Samsung Telecommunications America as the Director of Product Marketing. Bidan is well known for his role in the launch of the PlayBook, which is RIM’s first play into the tablet market.  While the PlayBook itself wasn’t very well received by early adopters, it’s arguable that the launch and hype behind the device was a success. With rumors of RIM selling 250,000 units in the first month, it’s definitely a positive note Ryan is leaving on.

Bidan follows what is almost a steady stream of senior suits who have recently left the company, presumably jumping ship before it’s too late. The industry knows all too well the moves that RIM is making; splitting efforts between multiple operating systems, stagnating with their hardware and design efforts, and to top it off they have internal red tape and bureaucracy that stifles creativity. These are some of the telltale signs that Nokia had before their big shakeup and partnership with Microsoft. While nobody knows where RIM is heading, we do know that RIM has previously advised they were expecting a drop in profits as well as a reduction in workforce in order to compensate for losses.

While neither Samsung nor RIM have confirmed the news, Ryan’s LinkedIn page speaks for itself, showing his past position at RIM with his current one in big bold letters. A recent tweet by @ryanbidan corroborates his LinkedIn profile position in Dallas and eludes to his relocation in the near future.

Who can compete with the iPad?

The iPad is the king of tablets

Apple’s iPad has dominated tablet sales so far. Android tablets have started making some dents, but none of them are really gaining steam as a product (vs. Android tablets gaining some share as a collection). Harry McCracken at Technologizer asked the simple question every tablet maker should be asking at the time of creating their products: Why should someone buy this instead of an iPad?.

Not just the hardware

The iPad and iPad2 are exceptional products by themselves. Great design (although, I could do with a non-glossy/non-reflective screen), light enough to be really portable, GREAT battery life, and to me, a good size for a screen which would be used for media consumption like movies and TV shows via Netflix, hulu and the like.

The key to their success though, besides the hardware itself and the beauty of the operating system, is the ecosystem. The apps, music, movies, podcasts, iTunes U, and the sometimes overlooked accessory industry. Apple has made slow and steady progress in putting these pieces together and has a seemingly invincible position, but in the world of technology today, it could be very short-lived.

Of course, the starting price of $500, thought by many at the time of the iPad launch to be too high, seems like another killer feature of the iPad.

Ecosystem providers, real competition

Who can really compete with the iPad? Not just the tablet, but the entire package of the tablet, the ecosystem, and the price? Remember, it may be ok to just meet the iPad, but in order to create a serious dent, the competition has to have a pretty big advantage on almost all of the aspects. So, let’s see who is competing:

  • Android at the low end: Cheap Android tablets are everywhere but they may not have Google’s blessing and as a result be cut off from the first-class Android experience, including the Android Market. So they have the price advantage but nothing else.
  • Android at the top end: Motorola XOOM and Galaxy Tab started off as 3G devices sold by the carriers. They required a data contract or ended up costing more without data contract, than an iPad. They suffered from the data contract/price issue to start with, but more importantly, there are hardly any apps for Android in the tablet form factor. An ecosystem though, is not just about the apps, it should also provide a good collection of music, movies and TV shows, which Android seems to lack today.
  • HP TouchPad with webOS: HP recently launched the TouchPad and the sales as well as reviews are not encouraging. HP has a problem similar to Android tablets in terms of getting quality apps available for the customers. It does not have to be hundreds of thousands of apps like the iPad apps, but when you start from zero, it is really an uphill climb. HP does not have a marketplace for music, videos and TV either, but it is big enough to cut some deals and get something going. The point right now though, is that there is nothing on offer, making it difficult to justify the purchase for consumer use.
  • RIM Playbook and Windows 7 slates: I won’t go into too much detail because it is clear that RIM released this thing too soon. It is an unfinished product and has been a flop so far. It is hard to imagine a product from the maker of Blackberry devices that does not have native email and calendar. Native email and calendar are supposed to be coming this summer, but until then it is an incomplete product.   I am similarly ignoring Windows 7 tablets like the the Asus slate, because Windows 7 Touch seems like touch was slapped on Windows 7 rather than it being built for touch-first use. While it works much like a PC, thereby providing a healthy ecosystem to rely on, it is not really an iPad competitor because it is not as light, and is way more expensive.

Windows 8, Amazon tablet Two legitimate competitors

We know very little about Windows 8 and almost nothing about the Amazon tablet. In fact, we don’t even know if any such product is going to come from Amazon, but here is why I think either of these, or both, are going to be viable competitors to iPad (and also lay out conditions for their success).

Windows 8 (especially ARM version): ARM is known for its power efficiency, and we can assume that it will enable small form factor Windows 8 devices with a long battery life. Combine this with the public announcement by Steven Sinofsky that Windows 8 system requirements are going to be same or lesser than Windows 7, and we have a good chance of seeing Windows 8 tablets/slates in the iPad form factor with similar battery life. Windows has a great ecosystem which it supports on the XBOX and Windows Phone, in the form of the Zune Marketplace. It provides a huge collection of music, movies and TV shows. Windows of course, has the most extensive applications catalog (although the current Windows applications will not automatically work on ARM, but will do on Intel architecture as-is). Windows Phone has rapidly grown its app catalog, starting from zero in October/November of 2010 to about 25,000 this June. Since we don’t know what Windows 8 application development will be like outside of HTML/Javascript, let’s just assume that the app ecosystem will be rich enough to start with. This assumption is generally for Windows 8 with full support for legacyWindows applications. We cannot discuss ARM applications until we know more, supposedly at the //build/ conference in September this year.

One concern I have is that Microsoft seems to be fixated on the fact that tabletsare full PC’s, just in a different form factor. Maybe they consider slatesto be the lightweight PC with a similar form factor. I hope that one way or the other, that they understand that there is a product category which is not necessarily a full PC, but serves the purpose of casual computing much like the iPad does today.

Amazon tablet: Of all Android tablet makers, Amazon surprisingly is poised to be the best equipped in terms of an ecosystem it supports music, movies, TV shows, instant streaming, subscription, cloud storage, cloud music player, digital goods, and very recently, even its own curated Android market for apps! It has already shown manufacturing prowess with the highly successful Kindle, although I understand components for a tablet are different from those used in making the Kindle. Amazon also has a great retail shelf spaceto sell their tablet, and that is their home page, visited by millions of people every day.

If they can pull off a 9- or a 10-inch tablet built on Android with their own marketplace for apps, movies, music and TV shows, they would immediately be a competitor.

It is strange that I feel most optimistic about something that we may not see for one more year, and something that does not even exist as a product today. Such is the state of iPad competition (or lack thereof) today, that we are left to place our bets on almost-unicorns and unicorns.

I sure hope there is some real competition for the iPad though, because that can only be good for us, the consumers. Right?