Research in Motion doesn't want you to judge the PlayBook by its first-edition cover.
During multiple demonstrations at BlackBerry World this morning, RIM went out of its way to not just demonstrate the BlackBerry PlayBook's current capabilities but to give users a taste of what the PlayBook will be capable of in the near future. The demonstrations of future PlayBook capabilities came in the wake of mixed reviews for the tablet that praised its hardware capabilities but found that certain key features were missing in the initial offering.
The PlayBook's native corporate email and calendar applications were the most anticipated new features demonstrated today, as RIM announced the applications will be pushed out to the PlayBook this summer. While the email and calendar applications largely mirrored the email and calendar applications currently found on BlackBerry smartphones, they were surely a sight for sore eyes for PlayBook users who don't own a BlackBerry smartphone capable of syncing up to the tablet.
Currently, the PlayBook can only access corporate email and calendars through a Bluetooth "bridge" connection to a BlackBerry smartphone. While this might be all well and good to those users who are dedicated BlackBerry fans, the lack of stand-alone email threatened to impose serious limitations on any PlayBook user who doesn't own a BlackBerry smartphone already.
In addition to getting widely anticipated corporate communications tools, the PlayBook will also have its search and mapping functions primarily powered by Microsoft's Bing search engine by the end of the year. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, making a surprise appearance at BlackBerry World, said that integrating Bing deeply into BlackBerry devices would "provide an intelligence and organizing layer the in cloud that connects a user's intentions with actions to help people be more productive."
In a short demonstration of Bing's future integration into BlackBerry devices, Microsoft engineer Blaise Aguera y Arcas showed how Bing automatically appeared on the BlackBerry's home screen to deliver location-based information immediately to users. In this particular case, Bing was delivering information on stores, restaurants and special deals located in the Marriott World Center in Orlando, where this week's BlackBerry World is taking place.
"We're not just thinking about Bing as an app but as a highly integrated experience," said Aguera y Arcas. "You shouldn't think of our search as just Web search because it includes the ability to use cameras and microphones to do modal searches that can bring local content and personal content to the glass."
RIM also demonstrated several third-party applications designed specifically for the PlayBook, including a new Facebook app, SAP's business-management application and 7Digital's music store application. More significantly, RIM also debuted its Android Player application that will be able to emulate mobile applications designed for Google's Android platform. RIM said that users can simply download Android-based applications directly from BlackBerry App World and can then run them using the emulator. While RIM will still retain control over which Android apps it allows onto its App World, this will significantly boost the number of applications available on the PlayBook, especially as developers begin creating more applications for Android 3.0 ("Honeycomb") that are designed specifically for tablet-sized screens.
Finally and most importantly, RIM announced that Rovio would have a PlayBook-tailored version of its popular and ubiquitous "Angry Birds" game this summer. Now PlayBook users can join iPad and Motorola Xoom users in wasting hours of time launching wrecking-ball-caliber feathered beasts at smarmy green pigs. What tablet experience would be complete without that?