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PlayBook OS 2.0 brings native e-mail to RIM's faithful

RIM's BlackBerry PlayBook tablet, released in April 2011, will receive an over-the-air software update in February that will bring native apps for e-mail, contacts, and calendar.

Now playing: Watch this: The new OS 2.0 for the BlackBerry PlayBook
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LAS VEGAS--When RIM's BlackBerry PlayBook tablet first made the scene in 2011, it arrived without any standalone apps for e-mail, contacts, or calendar.

At the time, RIM stated the omission was a deliberate security measure that allowed its predominantly corporate clientele to adopt the device immediately without any additional risk. If a BlackBerry customer wanted their e-mail, contacts, and calendar information on their tablet, they had the option of securely pairing the tablet with their BlackBerry smartphone for temporary access.

Needless to say, the PlayBook's non-corporate customers found the lack of a basic e-mail app to be puzzling. To address this, RIM's PlayBook OS 2.0 update (due out February) blesses the 7-inch tablet with dedicated apps for e-mail, contacts, and calendar. It's not terribly exciting stuff, but it's nonetheless a useful update, and to RIM's credit the company clearly invested a lot of time to create a worthwhile proposition.

Mail

The PlayBook's e-mail app gives you a unified inbox for all of your accounts, including social networks such as LinkedIn and Twitter. In spite of the PlayBook's relatively small 7-inch screen, RIM has made it possible to juggle between inbox views and e-mails using a collapsible multipanel interface.

When it comes to e-mail composition, RIM includes a rich text editor that allows you to change fonts, create lists, bold, underline, and color--just as you'd expect from a desktop e-mail application. The included keyboard has been improved too, though to notice these improvements is also to remember they weren't there to begin with. Features such as autocorrect, predictive text, and keyboard shortcuts have all been included.

Calendar

The PlayBook's Calendar app works just as you'd expect. You can create appointments directly or subscribe to any online calendars you may already have. As shown in the above video, one interesting design trick RIM employed is to increase or minimize the calendar date depending on the number of events scheduled on it. This way, you can glance your calendar and immediately spot the busiest days.

Contacts

RIM's new Contacts app for BlackBerry PlayBook has a few tricks up its sleeve. Its first trick is the capability to sync profile information from your connected LinkedIn and Twitter accounts. Its second trick is its integration with the Calendar app. Rescheduling an appointment on your calendar will trigger an automatic notification to the contacts you have associated with the event.

Final thoughts

PlayBook OS 2.0 will be a welcome update for any BlackBerry PlayBook user. For RIM's loyal base of business users, the e-mail and contact integration with LinkedIn is an attractive proposition.

Still, it's a surprisingly subtle update that comes at a time when interest in the now 9-month old product is seemingly flat. If RIM is really committed to making the BlackBerry PlayBook a success, it's going to need to be more aggressive with these updates, as well as app development, and a new generation of hardware.