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5/3/2011
02:40 PM
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BlackBerry PlayBook Gets Major Update

RIM's version 1.0.3 system software adds Video Chat, BlackBerry Messenger, Docs Editing, and home screen browser bookmarks to the tablet.

RIM BlackBerry PlayBook Teardown
(click image for larger view)
Slideshow: RIM BlackBerry PlayBook Teardownr
RIM kicked out a major system software update to the PlayBook in the overnight hours. Version 1.0.3 adds Video Chat, BlackBerry Messenger (via Bridge), Docs Editing (via Bridge), and home screen browser bookmarks. Once system 1.0.3 is installed, users will also be able to access and download the new Facebook application for PlayBook.

This new system software comes just weeks after the last update, 1.0.1710, which was sent to the PlayBook just after launch. As it turns out, PlayBook owners need to get used to installing system updates--it's going to happen a lot.

"If we need to, we'll be cranking new capabilities for users every two weeks," said RIM vice president of software Alan Panezic.

One reason the PlayBook will receive numerous updates, at least at the onset, is that it is lacking a lot of key applications, such as email, contacts, and calendar. Some of those apps will be delivered via the system updates, which will also include system fixes and other enhancements to the tablet.

If you're worried that wireless network operators will block RIM from pushing out the updates (as they sometimes do for smartphones), worry not. RIM said that the carriers won't stand in the way … unless the system changes affect the cellular data radio in the PlayBook. Since for the moment the PlayBook is only available with Wi-Fi, users need not really fret about this.

Panezic explained that RIM will "make sure there's very clean separation between what's going on with the radio and the rest of the OS." He didn't say if IT departments will need to worry about the system updates.

During the keynote address today at BlackBerry World, RIM demonstrated a few upcoming applications for the PlayBook. One was Vevo, the music video app that's available on the Android platform. Another was Angry Birds, the popular game. RIM also showed off the forthcoming native email, calendar, and contacts applications, which will be able to run without the PlayBook's Bridge application. RIM didn't say exactly when any of these will be available, but indicated that native email might arrive "this summer."

The Facebook app that became available Tuesday was built specifically for the PlayBook's seven-inch display and is meant to augment the Facebook experience as used on BlackBerry handhelds. It comes with a number of the basic features, such as viewing and adding friends, watching videos and viewing photos, interacting via Facebook chat, as well as interacting with the news feed (liking, commenting, etc.).

RIM also added a dedicated video chatting application today with system 1.0.3 that takes advantage of the PlayBook's twin 5-megapixel cameras. The video chatting application, which only works over Wi-Fi, lets two people open up a voice and video call between two PlayBooks.

The software supports incoming call notifications via pop-up windows, which can be ignored or accepted. In-call features include picture-in-picture (allows users to see themselves and their friend), as well as the ability to swap between the front and rear cameras for sharing.

In some initial trials of the Video chatting application, it appears that RIM did a pretty good job with it. Once you spend a few moments figuring out the basics, it is much easier to use than some of the third-party offerings from the likes of Qik and Fring. It's very similar to Apple's FaceTime application for its iOS devices. You connect calls via BlackBerry IDs (PINs or email addresses), and it works well. Video quality wasn't the greatest, but audio came through just fine.

The update can be downloaded without tethering to a computer. It comes in at 290 MB. The update process takes perhaps 15 minutes from start to finish.

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