What is in BlackBerry PlayBook OS 2.0: new universal inbox and remote control

Here at BlackBerry Devcon Europe attendees were shown the key features of PlayBook 2.0, an update for the RIM tablet that will run on the existing hardware.

Aside from new runtimes for developers and some usability tweaks, the main changes users will notice are a new universal inbox and PIM (Personal Information Manager), and deeper integration between the PlayBook and BlackBerry smartphones.

The PlayBook 2.0 PIM offers a single inbox for Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter as well as email.

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The PIM includes an embedded web browser so that you can view HTML messages without leaving the application.

The application also covers calendar and contacts.

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If you look in detail at a meeting, you can see the other attendees, presuming that the information is available.

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One of the aims is to aggregate information drawn from social networks and from the internet. It is a compelling idea, and one that Microsoft has also used. For example, when you view an email the Outlook Social Connector automatically looks up status messages from FaceBook and LinkedIn from the author. Windows Phone also aggregates information from multiple social networks in its People hub.

RIM talked about adding web information. We were given the example of getting an email from someone and viewing recent press releases from their company within the PlayBook 2.0 PIM. If this is well implemented, it does make sense, giving you useful background without the need of a manual web search. A contact record is no longer just name, address and company, but a portal into that person’s story and current activity.

The other big new feature in PlayBook 2.0 is remote control. You can use your BlackBerry SmartPhone as a controller and input device for the PlayBook.

What is the point of this? A good question, to which the most obvious answer is that you can use the physical keypad on a BlackBerry to type on the PlayBook. This drew applause when demonstrated.

I asked for other use cases on Twitter. The main other suggestion was using a BlackBerry as a remote when your PlayBook is plugged into a screen as a media player or presenter.

The concept goes beyond this though. Here is new CEO Thorsten Heins speaking in the keynote:

Just take this idea a step further. Think about BlackBerry 10 being a platform, for mobile computing, for smartphones, so it really shows the deep integration of the BlackBerry platform. Think about having your PlayBook somewhere on your desk at your home, and you can control everything just from your BlackBerry, I think that is fantastic

Incidentally, RIM’s operating system naming is confusing. This is how it goes. BlackBerry OS up to and including 7.0 is the old smartphone OS that is being phased out. The new OS is based on QNX and first seen in the PlayBook, which runs Tablet OS 1.0. Version 2.0 of this OS, due out later this month with the features mentioned above, is called PlayBook OS 2.0.

BlackBerry 10 is the next iteration of this QNX-based OS and will run on SmartPhones as well as on the PlayBook. BlackBerry 10 is expected later in 2012, probably towards the end of the year.

RIM’s future depends on wide acceptance of BlackBerry 10. The uncomfortable question: how many mobile operating systems can succeed? It seems that Apple iOS and Google Android are well established, but the future prospects of new entrants such as BlackBerry 10 and Windows 8 is open to speculation.

Update: I visited the exhibition here and spent some time hands-on with the version of the PIM that is installed on the PlayBook devices. It is disappointing, though bear in mind that it is not, I was told, the final version (though if the final version is coming this month you would have thought it is not far off).

Some key points:

  • The embedded HTML rendering in the email client is just for the message itself. If you tap a link, it takes you into the separate web browser app.
  • In order to get social network status updates from the author of an email message, you have to be logged into that social network and the author must already be one of your “friends”, or so I was told. I hope this is incorrect, as it seems largely to defeat the purpose of this kind of integration. Outlook’s social connector retrieves status updates from anyone irrespective of whether you are logged into that network or have them on your friends list.
  • I asked about SharePoint integration and received the vaguest of answers. A SharePoint app is in preparation but there is no word on when it might appear, and it may be dependent on some sort of Microsoft input.
  • There is no official cloud storage service from RIM. You can use third-party services like Dropbox. Enterprises are expected to use internal file shares, via VPN if necessary.

It seems to me that RIM is in danger of missing an important market for PlayBook here. Many RIM customers use Microsoft’s platform because of the link with Exchange. A tablet with excellent support for SharePoint and Office 365 would have obvious value, and Microsoft can be expected to tap into this with Windows 8. BlackBerry could get there first with PlayBook but it looks like this will not be the case.

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