RIM delays tablet OS update to February

SAN FRANCISCO  — Last week at its BlackBerry DevCon conference, Research in Motion tried to excite developers about the forthcoming PlayBook OS 2.0 mobile operating system, to spur developers to create applications for RIM’s BlackbBerry PlayBook tablet, released last spring to poor reviews and low sales.
But in a blog yesterday David Smith, RIM’s senior-vice president for the device said that it is delaying the release of the PlayBook 2.0 OS “until we are confident we have fully met the expectations of our developers, enterprise customers, and users.”
“We have decided to defer the inclusion of the BBM application to a subsequent BlackBerry PlayBook OS release,” he wrote, adding that “the software update will add advanced integrated e-mail, 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.”

PlayBook OS 2.0 was originally promised for October 2011, but RIM has now set a target of February 2012. To meet the new February 2012 release date, RIM said it was dropping a key feature originally promised for PlayBook OS 2.0: its popular BlackBerry Messenger instant-messaging service.

The news was greeted with resignation. “Needless to say this execution delay is very disappointing, yet seemingly status quo,” National Bank Financial analyst Kris Thompson wrote ITWorld Canada in an email.  “Considering the company’s track record, we wouldn’t be shocked if the OS update slips further into the future,” wrote Endgadget associate editor Terrence O’Brien.

Reaction in posts attached to David Smith’s blog ranged from “Can’t wait! Totally support the decision to get it right…” to

branding the decision completely unacceptable. “This is truly UNBELIEVABLE RIM. You NEED to hire better team, fire lame team and release 2.0 within couple of months and fully functionable,” said one. “We’ve all be fed a pack of lies since launch of the device, I wasted £300 on the promise of Native Email, Android Player and DLNA by the end of summer….now 2012….when will the delays end 2013?” said another. 
Developers were looking forward to the promised October PlayBook 2.0 OS release in hopes it might spur sales of the poorly selling tablet, especially as the original timing would have taken advantage of the holiday sales season that will also see the release of the unified tablet/smartphone Android 4.0 “Ice Cream Sandwich” operating system and a bevy of new smartphones using Microsoft’s recently released Windows Phone 7.5 “Mango” operating system, in addition to Apple’s strong-selling iPad and new iPhone 4S, both featuring the recently released iOS 5 operating system.

Developers were also eager to test their applications on the revised PlayBook operating system, both for compatibility testing and to enhance existing apps or create new ones using the revised PlayBook software developers kit (SDK). To address that testing need, RIM [Nasdaq: RIMM; TSX: RIM]  said it will make a beta version of the PlayBook OS 2.0 available this week to developers for use with the SDK. But that beta will not include two of the major enhancements presented to developers last week: the Cascades animation toolkit and the revamped user interface toolkit.

RIM is also launching a closed beta program with selected enterprise customers to test its security enhancements, which include allowing IT to manage PlayBook tablets with RIM’s extra-cost BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) server software. The original PlayBook lacked such security unless it was wirelessly tethered to a BlackBerry smartphone, which was its only means of accessing corporate email, contacts, and calendars. PlayBook OS 2.0 is expected to remove the tethering requirement of the original PlayBook’s BlackBerry Tablet OS 1.0. (PlayBook OS is the new name for that operating system.)

The PlayBook OS is based on the QNX operating system that RIM bought in spring 2010 to be the basis for its tablets and, sometime in the 2012-13 timeframe, be the basis for a new operating system for its BlackBerry smartphones. Last week, RIM said that it will provide a unified tablet/smartphone operating system called BBX, based on the QNX/PlayBook platform. It said that applications developed for the PlayBook OS would be compatible with BBX, but did not make the same promise for BlackBerry OS apps.

RIM’s plan is to release PlayBook OS 2.0 for its tablets, then later release BBX for both PlayBook tablets and BlackBerry smartphones, though it gave no specific timeline. It also has not said whether any current BlackBerry smartphones will run the BBX operating system when it becomes available.

RIM’s previous promises of future compatibility have not always been honored. In July 2010, RIM announced that its then-imminent BlackBerry OS 6.0 would run on then-current BlackBerrys, but it later changed its plans, restricting BlackBerry OS 6.0 to devices released in fall 2010 and winter 2011. In September 2011, it released BlackBerry OS 7.0, which had been previously named BlackBerry OS 6.1, and said it would run only on new BlackBerry models released in fall 2011 and later.

(From InfoWorld U.S. and PC World U.S. With adds by Howard Solomon, ITWorld Canada)

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