The news that RIM is quickly headed for extinction has been greatly exaggerated. Sure, RIM is no longer a top handset manufacturer. And though the company is not profitable—it's still losing money and market share—it is managing to keep its head above water. It is currently trying to build buzz around its forthcoming BlackBerry 10 software. RIM's initial tablet offering, the BlackBerry PlayBook, was greeted with mixed reviews when it hit the streets last year; we praised the device more for what it might become rather than for what it was. After 18 months and a major update to PlayBook OS, we're checking back in to see if any of that hinted-at potential has been realized, or if the PlayBook should be consigned to the bin.
When Ars first published our in-depth look at the PlayBook, we were impressed with its hardware and user interface. The software, though, left a lot to be desired. The PlayBook came with no third-party app integration, no standalone messaging software, no expandable storage, and limited usefulness right out of the box. Sales of the device weren't great: only 700,000 units had shipped during the first two quarters following its release, with its total unit sales rounding out to about 1.74 million. The adoption rates were so low that RIM lowered the price on the hardware and eventually pushed for Android apps to be ported over to it in an effort to help expand its market share.
The recent hefty PlayBook software update makes the device worth revisiting because of the unrealized promise of the original hardware. PlayBook OS version 126.96.36.1992 brings several notable enhancements to the PlayBook, including an updated BlackBerry Bridge for better device synchronization, enhancements to the e-mail application, and improved Android app support. We wanted to see if those updates have managed to improve the PlayBook's much-maligned software experience.