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2/15/2012
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PlayBook OS 2.0 Arrives Late February

RIM update brings long-overdue features, such as native support for email, better contact app, and Android app player.

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BlackBerry senior brand manager Jeff Gadway Wednesday revealed that Research In Motion is nearly finished with PlayBook OS 2.0. Speaking to PCMag.com, Gadway said that the update probably will be made available during the week of Feb. 26, which coincides with Mobile World Congress taking place in Barcelona.

The update will be pushed out over the air, and will be about 400 MB in size, according to Gadway. It will hit all PlayBooks at the same time.

The update is a significant one, and brings with it long-overdue features, such as native support for email--including personal email services and Microsoft Exchange. It will also add a unified inbox that can handle not just email, but also social networking messages such as those from Facebook or Twitter.

The PlayBook shipped in April 2011 without support for email unless paired with a BlackBerry smartphone. The PlayBook's lack of corporate email support is one of the major reasons it has failed to succeed in the market compared to its competitors.

[ The Playbook from the inside out. See RIM BlackBerry PlayBook Teardown. ]

Beyond the messaging suite, PlayBook OS 2.0 also adds in a new contact book. According to Gadway, the new contact app is smart enough to show users when they last met with the people that populate their contact database, and will let BlackBerry owners use their handheld to type out messages on the PlayBook or act as a mouse for the device.

The other key element being introduced by PlayBook OS 2.0 is the Android app player. Once it is installed, PlayBook owners will be able to download and run reformatted Android applications in an emulator environment on the PlayBook. This is a crucial step for the PlayBook, as it is rather app starved when compared to the market leaders. PlayBook users will be able to access a special version of the Android Market to search for and download Android apps to their tablet.

The new operating system features will work on the W-Fi and 3G versions of the PlayBook. Gadway didn't provide any details about new tablet hardware from RIM, which is still in the process of dumping the PlayBook. The PlayBook originally went on sale for $499, but has often been discounted by as much as $300 since September. RIM currently is offering free PlayBooks to Android developers in exchange for writing apps that will run on the PlayBook.

Gadway did say that RIM is "still committed to a 4G PlayBook, and 2.0 is a large part of getting 4G right." RIM had planned to introduce WiMax and LTE variants of the PlayBook last year, but was stymied by Sprint and Verizon Wireless, which declined to sell them.

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