BlackBerry PlayBook adds video calling and Facebook apps

Summary:The BlackBerry PlayBook badly needs more useful apps. At BlackBerry World, RIM helped its cause with a new video chat app as well as a Facebook app that could beat iOS and Android to the punch.

The BlackBerry PlayBook offers a solid user experience, but lacks the fundamental apps it needs to seriously compete against the Apple iPad and other tablets. RIM filled a couple of those needs on Monday at BlackBerry World 2011 in Orlando by announcing a video chat app and a Facebook app.

Photo credit: Jason Hiner

Video chat

Video chat is an app that RIM built itself and is integrating into PlayBook with an automatic over-the-air update, starting May 3. It will also be available to download in BlackBerry App World.

The app is similar to Apple's FaceTime in that you can only use it over Wi-Fi and you can make a call via an email address (in this case, a BlackBerry ID). It also only works between BlackBerry PlayBook devices. However, it's interesting to note that this app also serves as a VoIP app that can make voice phone calls as well.

  • One-click video or voice-only calls from contact list, recent calls, or BBID
  • Customized Friend List for your favorite contacts
  • Notifications that will alert PlayBook users to incoming calls and allow them to accept or decline
  • In-call functionality allows users to preview their video before sending, see picture-in-picture of their video and caller's video, switch between front and back cameras, and mute audio

What the PlayBook has going for it with video chat is a couple of great cameras (superior to iPad) and an excellent high resolution display. However, Apple's FaceTime can also do video calls with other non-tablets, including Mac, iPhone 4, and the latest iPod Touch.

Facebook

There's already a Facebook app for BlackBerry smartphones, and according to RIM the app has over 30 million users. Now, the Facebook experience is being optimized for the 7-inch PlayBook screen.

Some of the highlights include:

  • View and interact with news feed, including the ability to comment on and like posts from your contacts and quickly view photos and links; users can also post status updates and upload photos
  • Use Facebook chat for interacting with contacts, including side-by-side viewing of contacts list and active conversations; notifications of chat interactions will display on the notification bar and allow users to continue chatting while browsing through the Facebook app
  • Facebook photo capabilities include being able to upload photos, tag friends, view comments, tags, and likes on others' photos, and output Facebook photos and videos to TV via the PlayBook's HDMI port

Most of the Facebook mobile apps are not very robust and there aren't native Facebook apps for iPad or Android tablets yet, so it will be interesting to see if the PlayBook could actually get a jump on its tablet rivals with this app. RIM said the app will be available in BlackBerry App World in May.

Bottom line

These two apps are important additions to the PlayBook, but they will need to be the first in a series of critical apps to get added to the PlayBook in order to make a long-term success in the tablet market.

Topics: Social Enterprise, BlackBerry, Hardware, Mobile OS, Mobility

About

Jason Hiner is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the upcoming book, Follow the Geeks (bit.ly/ftgeeks).

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