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5/2/2011
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RIM PlayBook Gets Facebook App, Video Chat

BlackBerry World kicked off with Research In Motion introducing key applications that will be made available for the PlayBook tablet later this month.

RIM BlackBerry PlayBook Teardown
(click image for larger view)
Slideshow: RIM BlackBerry PlayBook Teardownr
Research In Motion's BlackBerry World conference lurched to life Monday morning in Orlando, and with it came some good news for RIM's PlayBook tablet. Later this month, a video chatting application and dedicated Facebook application will both become available to the PlayBook.

The Facebook app, RIM said, 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.).

What RIM doesn't explain is how the new Facebook application will handle key items such as integration with its Bridge application. One of the best aspects of the Facebook application for BlackBerrys is the way it integrates with the BlackBerry itself. Facebook for BlackBerry does a great job of joining forces with the native communication features of the BlackBerry platform. Those elements are missing on the PlayBook.

RIM will be demonstrating the application this week, so hopefully these and other questions will be answered. RIM didn't say exactly when it will hit BlackBerry App World, but it will happen some time in the next few weeks.

"There are over 30 million users of our Facebook for BlackBerry smartphones app who are staying in touch with their social network while on the go," Tom Goguen, VP, Collaboration and Social Networking at Research In Motion, said in a statement. "Now with Facebook for BlackBerry PlayBook we can also offer customers highly engaging social experiences optimized for the PlayBook, including the ability to share FaceBook pictures and videos with friends and family on an HDTV."

In addition to the new Facebook application, RIM also debuted a dedicated video chatting application that takes advantage of the PlayBook's twin 5-megapixel cameras. The video chatting application, which will disappointingly only work over Wi-Fi (like Apple's FaceTime), lets two people open up a voice and video call between two PlayBooks.

The software promises to connect people in one click from users' Video Chat contact list, log of recent calls, or by entering the BBID email address of the person they want to call. It 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. BlackBerry PlayBook Video Chat will come with its own friends list to help uses keep track of those with whom they can conduct video chats.

"BlackBerry is a renowned mobile communication solution for connecting users to the people and information that matter most throughout their day," said Goguen. "With the BlackBerry PlayBook Video Chat application we are excited to be enabling our customers to share important moments and events with family and friends via video calls. With the BlackBerry PlayBook's high-resolution video cameras and stunning display, a Video Chat call is the next best thing to being there."

The problem is, RIM makes the same mistakes Apple did when Apple launched FaceTime. The Wi-Fi-only limitation is a killer, as is the fact that it will only work between PlayBooks. What about support for video chatting between the PlayBook and BlackBerries, and the PlayBook and desktops? Is that on the horizon, will it ever happen?

While it is important for RIM to get applications such as these out there, it also has to make a more compelling case for using them.

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