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RIM's BlackPad tablet computer poised to debut next week

by Eric Benderoff

A new report says Research in Motion (RIMM) will unveil a tablet device next week. Guess what: It's more interesting than you'd expect. Also in today's App Industry Report, there's a new Gmail for Android users.

BlackPad has new OS

Turns out, this "BlackPad" product appears pretty interesting.

At first glance, it would be easy to mock Research in Motion's apparent attempt to build a tablet computer of its own. I mean, why would you want one if you could only run about 10,000 apps? Do we really need a device that's best use appears to inflate the size of your expense reports?

Well, if this story from the Wall Street Journal is even close to the truth, the most interesting thing about the BlackBerry maker's coming tablet computer is what it is not: a competitor to the iPad. Here's what it is: a competitor to the BlackBerry.

What? That sounds crazy. But here's the deal: The BlackPad will run on an entirely new operating system, not the nearly brand-new BlackBerry 6 OS featured on the BlackBerry Torch. Furthermore, according to the WSJ, "RIM eventually plans to transition its BlackBerry smartphones to the QNX operating system as well, people familiar with RIM's strategy said."

QNX Software Systems, which makes operating systems for industrial products, was recently purchased by RIM. It wouldn't be a stretch to say that RIM's OS, even its newest version, is outdated and cumbersome compared to the sleeker approaches offered by Apple (AAPL) and Android. I, and others, have said that RIM needs to scrape its OS entirely if it hopes to compete for the growing "prosumer" market. That's the user interested in business functions such as robust email as well as the fun and versatility offered from modern apps.

RIM's OS is largely a legacy product, occasionally improved but always familiar to long-time users. RIM has been reluctant to change this approach so not to alienate its core corporate customer, but that approach has led to declining market share and the inability to draw new customers. "Research firm Gartner Inc. estimated BlackBerry's share of world-wide smartphone sales fell one percentage point to 18% in the second quarter of this year versus the previous year—even as the share of Android and Apple devices rose," the WSJ wrote.

According to the paper, the so-called BlackPad could be unveiled next week at a developer's conference and then go on sale in the fourth quarter, in time for the holidays.

The device will have a 7-inch screen and one or two cameras, the WSJ reported.

Here's another twist, and its not a good one: The BlackPad can only connect to cellular networks through a BlackBerry smartphone, according the WSJ. No Wi-Fi? Will I have to pay tethering costs? Is this a corporate product, not one for the gadget-loving regular Joe?

Those questions remain, but for now, based on what we know, the BlackPad is more interesting than one would expect.

Android updates Gmail app

If you're running the updated Android 2.2 (Froyo) operating system, you can download a new version of Gmail that offers limited support for priority inbox. Priority inbox is a scheme I've come to love on my desktop version of Gmail -- it sorts your inbox based on messages that it deems important -- so I'm anxious to see how it will work for mobile users. Unfortunately, the Android phone I'm using isn't Froyo compatible yet so I'll have to wait a bit longer. The new Gmail should work on a Nexus One, HTC EVO, HTC Incredible, Motorola Droid 2 or a Motorola Droid -- assuming you've updated the firmware.

The Gmail update improves message replies, access to quoted text and easier access to long email threads among other things. However, according to Google, there's a known bug on HTC phones running Android 2.2 that Google (GOOG) is working to address.