PlayBook 2.0 update is here, and does it really matter?

RIM updates tablet OS to catch up with market on eve of iPad 3 release

The PlayBook tablet OS upgrade that Research in Motion delusionally thinks will make everyone remember what an awesome, visionary company the BlackBerry maker is has arrived.

I’d say Wall Street’s reaction to the PlayBook 2.0 is about right. Shares of RIM (NASDAQ: RIMM) were up a scant 10 cents, or 0.7%, to 15.17 in early Tuesday afternoon trading.

(Also see: More bad news for RIM: PlayBook OS update delayed 4 months)

In other words, investors don’t see the PlayBook OS update leading to some glorious comeback for RIM, which, in addition to seeing its U.S. smartphone market share dwindle to single digits over the past two years, is desperately trying to become relevant in a tablet market dominated by Apple’s iPad.

The early word I’m reading is that the PlayBook 2.0 – available as a free download -- addresses many of the egregious flaws in the original PlayBook, which was launched last April to mostly negative reviews and mostly negligible sales.

So now PlayBook users actually can download email without tethering to a BlackBerry smartphone (it’s still hard to believe RIM shipped a tablet for the “serious” user with no built-in email, calendar and contacts applications and expected to be successful). And you can run a few Android apps on it. Exciting, isn’t it?

No. All PlayBook 2.0 represents is a bid by RIM to get back in the tablet game. And while the upgrade did eliminate some of the PlayBook’s serious shortcomings, it comes a full 10 months after the original not-ready-for-prime-time PlayBook was unveiled. That’s 10 months of RIM spinning its wheels in the tablet market, a time during which both and Barnes & Noble rolled out devices that are grabbing some market share at the price point ($199) RIM is targeting with the PlayBook (after it was blown out by the iPad at $499).

Further, Apple is expected to release the iPad 3 sometime in March. As soon as it does, the PlayBook falls behind again.

What RIM needed – and needs – more than anything is a product that puts it ahead of the market, much as the BlackBerry smartphone did in the early and mid-2000s. Playing perpetual catch-up won’t cut it.

RIM’s roll-out of 2.0 on Tuesday was relatively light on hyperbole; a good call, as premature triumphalism on the part of its former co-CEOs hasn’t helped the company’s image in recent months. Better to let PlayBook owners render their own verdicts and hope for some good word-of-mouth.

(By the way, no one notices them much anymore, but RIM has its own version of Apple’s fanboys – devoted customers addicted to their “CrackBerries” and RIM. You can find some here, arguing vociferously (and somewhat defensively) on behalf of the PlayBook 2.0 in this discussion thread on CNET.

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