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CES 2012: RIM Updates BlackBerry PlayBook OS

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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Tablet receives native email in update, while BlackBerry OS 7.0 also updated

RIM has unveiled version 2.0 of the BlackBerry Playbook operating system at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, an update which finally allows users to access their e-mails without having to tether a BlackBerry smartphone to the tablet.

The addition of native email addresses one of the key criticisms of the tablet, which has not been a success for the beleaguered BlackBerry manufacturer. The new update is expected to be released as a free download next month.

Riding Solo

Other new features include improvements to messaging such as management tools, rich text emails, tabbed interface and a unified inbox which allows users to manage multiple accounts and social networks.

A new calendar and integrated contacts app merges information from multiple sources such as email and social channels, while there are improvements to Documents To Go, Print To Go and the App World and US video store.

The update also encourages closer interaction between various BlackBery devices with the new BlackBerry Bridge feature allowing the tablet to open documents and files on the PlayBook from BlackBerry smartphones, which can even be used as a keyboard and mouse for the tablet.

“BlackBerry PlayBook is already recognised for delivering powerful performance, true multi-tasking, advanced web browsing and HD multimedia in an ultra-portable design,” said Mike Lazaridis, President and Co-CEO at RIM. “With BlackBerry PlayBook OS 2.0 we are building on this strong foundation, as well as leveraging our strengths in communications, social integration and productivity, to allow people to use their BlackBerry PlayBook in new ways throughout the day.”

Tune in

RIM also announced an update to BlackBerry OS, which will begin rolling out today. BlackBerry OS 7.1 adds Near-Field-Communication features to BlackBerry smartphones as well as enhancements to BlackBerry Maps and implements Wi-Fi calling services.

BlackBerry phones can now be turned into a mobile hotspot which can be shared by up to five Wi-Fi devices and the update also activates the previous disabled FM tuner in the BlackBerry Curve 9360 and 9380 smartphones.

The BlackBerry PlayBook made its debut last April, but it has produced disappointing sales figures, leading to a number of US retailers to slash their prices of the tablet. RIM went one step further and took a $485m write-off against the stock of PlayBooks in its warehouses in December, meaning that it profits if it sells them at any price. The tablet has also received a price cut in the UK.

The failure of the PlayBook to establish itself in the market has compounded the problems at RIM, which has seen its share price tumble and revenues decrease. Potential delays to the next-generation of BlackBerry smartphones running BlackBerry OS 10 have exacerbated the company’s current plight.

RIM’s co-CEOs have seen their salary reduced to just one dollar, while a number of companies, including Amazon, Nokia and Microsoft have all be rumoured to be considering a takeover.