Maybe it’s too early to say for sure, but the upcoming free software upgrade for RIM’s BlackBerry PlayBook tablet looks like it might be able to turn around the device’s dismal performance. The tablet itself is solid; when we reviewed it last year, we said it was “one of the most powerful and appealing tablets on the market”. Its major fall-downs were its lack of native email and contact functionality for non-BlackBerry owners, and a small selection of third-party apps, but it seems RIM is taking out both in one solid sweep, judging by the PlayBook OS 2.0 demonstration at the BlackBerry booth of CES in Las Vegas.

They have stunning new functionality on display: using a BlackBerry smartphone as a remote control to provide an accurate cursor and tactile keyboard, for example, is one of the more unexpected additions, as is the ability to use the PlayBook as a Wi-Fi printer to quickly receive documents from a laptop or PC. An additional touch to the new unified inbox, which places personal and work emails in the same place as Twitter mentions and LinkedIn notifications, is provided by the new “tabbed email” interface, which allows users to reference one email while composing another.

Yes, Research In Motion are definitely onto something; after making a $485 million loss on the tablet, they’ve apparently decided the only acceptable course of action is to press on, rather than to fall back and cut their losses. In the United States, they’ll be launching the “BlackBerry Video Storefront” alongside the new upgrade, offering film and TV show rentals simultaneously with new DVD and Blu-ray releases, which can be streamed as well as downloaded, and then viewed on any TV via the device’s micro-HDMI port. The service is expected to come to Europe later this year.

What else is new? Well, the new Contacts application consolidates information from your emails, Facebook, and mutual contacts into one file to help maintain your relations, and the new Calendar application breaks new ground by allowing users to organise appointments by the individuals with whom they have been organised, then permitting easy access of relevant information like company background, drawn from social networks such as LinkedIn.

Let’s assume you’re not the business type; you’re reading all this and musing that you’d rather get an iPad. It’s not just RIM alone that’s pushing the PlayBook: Angry Birds and Cut the Rope are among some of the new third-party games coming to the platform, as well as official apps for Groupon, Thomson Reuters, Zinio, and many more. In one swift software upgrade, RIM are aiming to dismiss every existing criticism of their under-appreciated hand-held; and it might just see them recuperate.

If nothing else, this is a strong start to 2012 from a company barely hanging on to the smartphone and tablet market. Continued losses and lawsuits were thought to be taking their toll, but if RIM have enough power to drive out new software for the PlayBook and the BlackBerry smartphone, they might find they have the determination to pull through a successful year.