What’s new, what remains the same, and what is to come?

November 21, 2011

While most users will have to wait until February 2012 to get their first taste of Research In Motion’s revamped QNX operating system for the Blackberry Playbook, a developer build of Playbook OS 2.0 has been available for download from RIM’s beta zone since the middle of October.

While it’s premature to definitively state whether or not the changes RIM is bringing to the Playbook will redeem the browbeaten tablet in the eyes of pundits and consumers, we can show you some of what’s changed, what remains the same and what has yet to be implemented.

What’s new?

Folders
Playbook owners will be delighted to find that it’s now possible to group their applications into folders by dragging and dropping them together in the same manner as they would on an iOS device.

Goodbye, designated tabs
With PlayBook 2.0, RIM has done away with the pre-named tabs—All, Internet, Media, Blackberry and Games—seen in the first iteration of its tablet operating system. Instead, users are now allowed to organize their workspace as they see fit. It’s possible to mount all of your apps and folders on a single, scrollable page or to organize your tablet’s applications across multiple tabs which spawn as needed or disappear if unused. We found this made for a much less confusing, more customizable user experience

Favorites
Apps that are used more frequently can be dragged to a Favorites strip at the top of the OS’s GUI. No matter what screen you scroll to or how many apps you have available at a time, your favorites will always be easily accessible and ready to launch.

Android Applications
The way that RIM has set up Android apps to run on Playbook OS 2.0 is a thing of beauty. We tested several, and all were able to maintain their Google-flavored functionality, while leveraging the Playbook’s respectable internal hardware and QNX’s multitasking power. The end result was satisfying.

What remains the same?

Speed
Right out of the box, QNX has always felt remarkably responsive, even when facing off against the raw processing power of Tegra 2 powered Android hardware and Apple’s iPad 2. Having used the developer’s build of Playbook 2.0 for a number of weeks now, we find that the tablet still delivers a satisfyingly zippy user experience, even with multiple native and Android applications running simultaneously in the background.

Battery Life
The Playbook’s battery life has never been one of its strong suits. While it can power you through a day at work, playing a few games on the commute home often leaves the device’s power reserves depleted. From what we saw during testing, this hasn’t changed.

Startup Time
Initializing and restarting the Playbook has always been a painfully slow process. This hasn’t changed with version 2.0 of the OS.

What remains to be seen?

Blackberry Messenger
RIM has cited Blackberry Messenger compatibility issues with the Playbook’s new OS as the key reason for delaying its launch until 2012. In order to ensure that the company’s customers receive an optimum user experience from the push messaging app, RIM has stated that BBM will undergo a series of closed beta tests with select enterprise clients to make sure everything works as it should. This means that, aside from leaked information, we’re unlikely to have any idea of what the finished product will feel like in form or function until it’s publicly released.

Native Email and Calendar Applications
Word has it that RIM’s efforts to provide Blackberry Exchange Server support for QNX has borne some pretty unstable fruit. While this isn’t an issue for users who stream their email and calendars from their Blackberry smartphone to their Playbook, it could have implications for individuals wishing to use RIM’s tablet as a standalone productivity device. Will RIM be forced to forgo the use of BES services in favor of a more QNX-friendly format like IMAP, POP, Exchange ActiveSync or CalDav to get the job done? Once again, it’s very likely that we won’t know until February.

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