Wednesday, February 15, 2012

BlackBerry PlayBook OS 2.0 Walkthrough With RIM’s Jeff Gadway


Posted By Ray Nicolini

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I had a chance to sit down with Jeff Gadway, Senior Brand & Marketing Communications Manager @ RIM, this week to demo what is coming in PlayBook OS 2.0. Now that the launch is right around the corner it is nice to see where the software stands and how it works. You will all have this new OS update in your hands very soon (RIM cannot confirm a date) and try it for yourself but until then I will try to focus on what I saw in the latest build. First things first PlayBook OS 2.0 will be a ~400-500MB update based on if you are upgrading from the latest v1.0 or just turning on a new PlayBook you just purchased.
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Gadway let us know that there are three main focus points of PlayBook OS 2.0. They are Communications, Productivity, and Connections. One of the main things added in PlayBook OS 2.0 is the communications portion but it ties in well with the rest of the OS bundling in functionality from many of RIM’s acquisitions including Gist and Tungle. The three main new apps in PlayBook OS 2.0 are the Unified Mailbox, Calendar, and Contacts application that are all native. It allows you to connect one of each of your Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn accounts and multiple email and exchange accounts. The most beautiful part is how RIM pulls it all together into one seemless mailbox. It allows you to both read your Facebook and Twitter messages and compose them from one place. You can multi-task by having multiple emails in your compose screen that you can flip between.
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What I really was impressed with is that RIM seems to be focusing back on the basics that made BlackBerry great. I am talking about productivity. Gadway called it the BlackBerry Flow where RIM makes everything simpler. I simply compared BlackBerry Flow to the intuitiveness of how when you open an email on a BlackBerry smartphone the first option in the menu is reply. Once you click on that on the next screen the main option is send. In the PlayBook unified mailbox and the other applications this was clearly visible in how all the action buttons are on the right and left borders of the screen which is naturally where your hands sit. They also added quite a bit of HTML editing for email so you can bold, change fonts, colors, and other things when composing an email. Even cooler is the ability to edit email threads inline so you can respond inline! RIM also created nice connectivity between the apps which truly makes it feel like the PlayBook is getting the BlackBerry trademark productivity.
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When it comes to the calendar app I was really impressed with what RIM did together with TAT and Tungle. The calendaring experience is very close to what you see in Outlook but with way more visual flair. For example, on the main month view screen you can see the days you are busier because the date gets bigger the more appointments you have. Also they have a little bar by each day that shows what time of day your appointments are based on a 24 hour bar. The day view lets you easily hold down an item and move it around along with inviting people to meetings and coordinating. It also has a cool view showing you who you are meeting with today. The most impressive view for me was the week view which showed you the whole week on one screen and then let you expand each day separately. The visual elements here are beautiful! Also worth noting is that if you pull down the menu bar it will show you your multiple calendars like Facebook, Gmail, Exchange, and even a local calendar and you can toggle on and off which ones you want to see.
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Now this all ties back to the contacts app that is built dynamically for you from the accounts you registered to your PlayBook. It will pull in data for all your contacts and even reach out online to find more information. You will see which contacts are work contacts and then you can drill down even further with information it gets from Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, articles about their company, their location, their latest updates… This is also integrated with the updated Video Chat app which gives you a presence identifier and automatically checks if a user has a PlayBook and tells you by showing a green icon by their name if they are online. You can click on any little detail in the contact and it will launch the respective app like a twitter account will launch Twitter (not an app) and a video chat ID will launch video chat. This all becomes even more useful when you are using the Video Chat app since it integrates your contact list directly into the app and automatically recognizes users. The interface also got a nice overhaul in 2.0.
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Another huge update RIM has added in OS 2.0 is a new predictive keyboard. We have seen videos of this before hand but it really does simply predict what you are going to type next. You can write whole conversations just by typing the word “I” and then it will predict what you want to write next. This is impressive because it learns from your use so if you usually type I am coming home it will learn to predict that instead of the defaults. This is also an interesting new place for bridge to come in for users who like physical keyboards on their BlackBerry. You can now use your BlackBerry as both a physical keyboard and mouse for your PlayBook. That means you can use the touchscreen to move around the PlayBook screen and the keyboard on your smartphone to type on your PlayBook.
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The Bridge feature in general got a bunch of new features. RIM showed off some of them like the new Open on PlayBook option by showing a picture you have on your phone on the PlayBook but this goes way further. Say for example you have an open email on your BlackBerry smartphone you can Open on to your PlayBook and it will open it up through the bridge. The same goes for things like PowerPoint attachments and Excel files. Pretty cool right? The one thing I was sort of hoping RIM had solved would be the potential for disconnect between your Smartphone and PlayBook. For example, if you read an email or change a calendar entry on your BlackBerry Smartphone it will not be able to reconcile that over the Bridge but would rely on Gmail or exchange to propagate that between the two devices.
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Also worth noting are updated Documents to Go app along with other additions like a video store. App World has also been updated with a new look but it did not get the “Update All” button that I was hoping for. RIM has also updated the PlayBook OS with a Demo mode that cycles videos and tutorials so that when they are displayed at stores they will put their best foot forward. Any user can access this new mode. They are also putting out a new Discover Now 2.0 app that will help new PlayBook users discover OS 2.0 and its new features.
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All in all I cannot wait to get PlayBook OS 2.0 on my device. This just gives us a taste of what RIM has in store for BlackBerry 10 and the phones running QNX. These apps also make the swipe left and right between apps gesture way more useful to switch between an email you are composing and your calendar. At launch there will not be a notes and tasks app but it looks like they are coming. RIM is also scheduled to release the PlayBook administration piece of BES/Fusion this quarter so hopefully that will add even more goodies.
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I also asked Gadway if RIM is going to keep up on their promise for incremental updates instead of waiting for big splashes like they did with PlayBook OS 2.0. He explained that RIM did it this time since the different native apps needed to be interconnected first and could not be released separately. In the future RIM plans on being somewhere between the Apple approach of OS updates once a year and others that are fragmented with OS releases constantly.
I can’t wait to get to play with this for a few days on the final build once it is officially released!
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