TORONTO - If Research in Motion hopes to bounce back from a series of missteps that allowed rivals Apple and Google to leap ahead in the smartphone war, its forthcoming operating system BlackBerry 10 will have to truly wow consumers.
RIM insists it will. For a glimpse of what's to come, users just need to check out the latest software update for RIM's PlayBook tablet, says senior product manager Michael Clewley, calling it "the foundation for BlackBerry 10."
"This is a fantastic preview and a sneak peek into what BlackBerry 10 is going to offer," says Clewley of the new PlayBook 2.0 software update, made available to users earlier this week.
"All of the plumbing is what is at the core of BlackBerry 10 and we're just going to add on those capabilities as we head down that path."
Many BlackBerry fans have been positive about the software update, although some have pointed out that RIM should have implemented the features much sooner.
Clewley said PlayBook owners will eventually be able to update their tablets with the new BlackBerry 10 operating system, which RIM has targeted for the second half of the year.
In the meantime, PlayBook users can expect to see a few more updates along the way.
"We haven't necessarily disclosed a software roadmap for PlayBook at this time but you can be assured that ... we will have a few more releases for PlayBook," he said.
"We're, of course, committed to the PlayBook and the software platform on the PlayBook itself."
RIM has been aggressively wooing software developers with offers of free PlayBooks to get more apps onto RIM's BlackBerry App World and address complaints that there just aren't enough worthwhile games and applications available.
Clewley said there are now about 10,000 PlayBook apps online and that number is rapidly growing. Part of the growth is tied to the PlayBook's ability to run apps originally designed for Google's Android platform.
"We've seen an influx of Android apps ... and it has helped begin to (address) that perception on app gap," he said.
"In addition to the 10,000 that we have up for sale and download we have thousands more in the hopper."
Still, there are some glaring omissions in the PlayBook library, with Netflix, Skype and Amazon Kindle apps coming up again and again on user wish lists.
Clewley said it's up to those companies to design apps for the PlayBook, or tweak existing Android apps for RIM's tablets.
He said RIM is doing what it can to encourage that.
"That's definitely an area that we're continuing to work with the vendors on but it's really up to them to bring the product to our operating system. But we're definitely continuing to talk with them," he said.
In the case of Netflix, there's still no app available and the streaming service doesn't work within PlayBook's web browser, which Clewley said is a content rights issue.
He added that RIM is working with Twitter so the full website — and not just the mobile version — opens on the PlayBook.
"We're obviously in talks with them to have it run the full Twitter site (on the PlayBook) as the BlackBerry browser is quite powerful and capable," he said.
There is a method to unofficially get Android apps on the PlayBook, called sideloading, and Clewley indicated that RIM isn't discouraging the practice.
RIM's managing director of global sales and regional marketing, Patrick Spence, even retweeted a link on Thursday to the fan site CrackBerry.com, which walks users through the process of sideloading apps to the PlayBook.
"BlackBerry App World is the method for users to get applications, these applications, of course, go through a vetting process to ensure there's no malware and there's protection from that perspective," said Clewley.
"If users are sideloading applications then they're essentially loading those at their own risk and it's not the recommended approach."