RIM Releases PlayBook E-Mail 10 Months After Device Debut

Ten months after the debut of the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet computer, Research In Motion Ltd. released software allowing users to get built-in e-mail without having to tether the device to a BlackBerry smartphone.

The software provides dedicated calendar and contacts programs and lets users integrate messages from social-networking sites, such as Facebook and LinkedIn, to their inboxes. The product also adds “thousands” of downloadable applications to the App World store, RIM said in a statement today.

The lack of built-in e-mail resulted in stinging reviews when the Playbook debuted in April, and repeated delays in introducing the e-mail software upgrade hurt sales. RIM shipped 150,000 units in the quarter ended Nov. 26, down from 500,000 in the quarter of their introduction, prompting RIM to book $485 million in pretax costs to write down the value of its PlayBook inventory. Apple Inc. sold 15.4 million iPads in the fourth quarter.

RIM, based in Waterloo, Ontario, fell 1.3 percent to $14.88 at the close in New York. The stock has fallen 79 percent in the past 12 months.

RIM said in October that the PlayBook OS 2.0 upgrade wouldn’t include BlackBerry Messenger, the free instant-messaging service that has fueled sales outside North America. There was no mention of Messenger in today’s statement.

The lack of BlackBerry Messenger and the need to add new BlackBerry Mobile Fusion software to link the PlayBook to company networks “may reduce the appeal of PlayBook among RIM’s core markets: enterprises and BBM fans,” RBC Capital Markets analyst Mike Abramsky said today in a note. He rates RIM “sector perform.”

The upgrade includes an improved version of BlackBerry Bridge, the software that tethered the PlayBook and BlackBerry wirelessly, to let the smartphone act as a remote keyboard and mouse for the tablet. The PlayBook’s virtual keyboard now also incorporates predictive text software that anticipates what word the user will enter next, to improve typing speed.

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