January 10, 2012, 5:48 PM — RIM's BlackBerry PlayBook 2.0 software update has been a long time in coming; the first we heard about the possibility of the tablet supporting Android apps was nine months ago. But from my early look at the software, the update was not only worth the wait, but also may be what RIM needs to make its 7-inch PlayBook tablet more competitive and desirable. The free update will come to all PlayBook users in February.
The big news, of course, is the addition of Android app support. Apps have to be tweaked by developers, then approved and added to RIM's App World, but the experience to users is seamless. If RIM gets lots of developers on board with the conversion and keeps apps updated, it could dramatically boost its app selection--long a sore point with the PlayBook.
Android apps looked great on the screen, and behaved the same as native apps in terms of how they looked in the app menu and worked in multitasking. I noticed a little lag opening apps in my demo, but playing games looked great, with smooth graphics even on a 3D app.
A Big Refresh
For starters, RIM has updated the home screen. The favorite icons dock now stays at the top of the apps menu page. RIM joins its iOS and Android competition by allowing you to create folders; just hold down an app icon, drag one app onto another, and change the app name.
The notifications area on the upper left corner of the home screen gets more crowded with e-mail notifications, as well as the usual system-level messages. And you get a new visual to show what updates are coming through a Bridge connection--for example, BlackBerry Messenger content, or calendar invites.
When the PlayBook launched in April last year, its hardware was highly competitive, with a largely appealing, albeit squared-off design. The primary complaints had nothing to do with the hardware; but rather had to do with illogical omissions in the software (RIM had no email client, and no calendar or contact apps), and a limited native app ecosystem for the QNX-based operating system.