RIM Wins With This PlayBook 2.0

NEW YORK ( MainStreet) -- After, what -- a year? -- of rumors, leaks, pre-announcements, announcements, blogs, tweets, Facebook posts and whatever else passes for information in this dark disinformation age, struggling Canadian smartphone maker Research In Motion ( RIMM) finally released the upgrade for its tortured tablet, the PlayBook.

Marketed as the PlayBook 2.0 ($199 for a 16 GB model), this new tablet riff is part of BlackBerry's emerging device and operating system strategy dubbed BlackBerry 10. According to the hype spinning at the Mobile World Congress, going on this week in Barcelona, BlackBerry 10 will be Research In Motion's magic bullet that restores its place in the world of smartphones. The PlayBook 2.0 is also the first real offering from RIM's new CEO, Thorsten Heins.
Research In Motion has finally released the upgrade for its tortured tablet, the PlayBook, and it's safe to say 2.0 is fine as a name and too low to be a score.

But of course, RIM is still RIM. Drama somehow inserts itself into everything it does. So BlackBerry 10 probably won't be released until the fall. Which means, for businesses trying to determine if RIM is still worth the heartache, PlayBook 2.0 is about the only hard information we have on what tomorrow might hold.

Last week, I broke out my demo PlayBook, did the 2.0 upgrade -- which took, like, hours -- and spent the past few days using it here in my business.

Here's what I learned:

1. RIM does have a future as a business software company.
The immediate business takeaway with the upgraded PlayBook is that RIM is finally getting the hang of the software thang. The PlayBook has several new core apps including -- finally! -- email, an upgraded calendar and a deeper, easier-to-use App Market. All not only worked, but worked pretty well. For example, the email app called "messages" integrates email, Facebook, LinkedIn ( LNKD) and Twitter, as well as other accounts, into a single, easy-to-use interface. Is it earth-shattering? Of course not. But the combined messaging approach was productive for a business. And considering what a commodity tablets have become, decent business email and calendar might make these units a choice for firms.

2. The fabled RIM app gap is closing.
The other takeaway is that time is clearly on RIM's side when it comes to software. Several pre-installed apps on this PlayBook were (gasp!) useful. One of the handiest, called Print to Go, let me treat the PlayBook as a display for printed documents. Rather than dealing with, say, an airline e-boarding pass that maybe works and maybe doesn't, Print to Go is a printer driver. So I could "print" my boarding pass to the app that sent it to the PlayBook. Is this an earth-shattering, iPhone, Steve Jobs-like consumer "experience"? Of course not. But it's not trying to be. Print to Go is merely trying to be useful. And that is not so bad.

3. Clearly, RIM is taking value seriously.
RIM is, without question, looking at a business' bottom line these days. The new PlayBook is remarkably well priced. The 16 GB version I tested now costs $199, with no cellphone contract, which is exactly the price of Amazon's ( AMZN) Kindle Fire. But it is much more productive in the work environment. RIM's custom operating system is fast. The company probably offers some of the tightest security standards in the mobile market. There are several means of remotely managing company assets on the thing. Plus, the device is rugged. I dropped my test unit several times, and its firm rubber backing and tough screen held up.

Bottom line
Does a single upgrade that is not an utter disaster make up for all of RIM's previous missteps? Heavens no. Several issues still loom. Tablets now are commodities, so every feature in the world may not matter when a basic tablet costs less than $100, which is just a matter of time. Will BlackBerry ever again compete for the pure consumer smartphone market? I doubt it. An entire generation of mobile device users simply doesn't even know what a BlackBerry is. And customers remember the disgraceful email outages that were never fully explained.

Even so, I catch an early whiff of business value with the PlayBook 2.0. And assuming RIM sticks to its core business market there could be real upside with these devices. Most definitely I would not dump my BlackBerry infrastructure just yet.

And mark your calendars. BlackBerry 10 might just turn out to be a business 11.

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This commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet guest contributor program. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of TheStreet or its management.

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