RIM Set to Replace BlackBerry OS With QNX?

Desperate to turn around its flagging smartphone franchise in the face of intense competition from Apple and a slew of Android-powered mobile devices, Research In Motion appears to be on the verge of making a strategic about-face by transitioning its BlackBerry devices from its in-house mobile operating system to the QNX OS that's powering its new PlayBook tablet PC.

According to a report from IntoMobile coming out of the company's DevCon event this week, a RIM vice president confirmed that the QNX OS will be the basis for future releases of its BlackBerry smartphones, a commitment that, if true, comes less than two months after the company released its updated BlackBerry 6 OS for devices including the BlackBerry Torch.

Research In Motion (NASDAQ: RIM) officials were not immediately available to comment on the reported change of heart in respect to its mobile OS strategy.

RIM garnered the QNX OS, which for now it's calling the BlackBerry Tablet OS, when it acquired QNX Software Systems from Harman International (NYSE: HAR) for $200 million in April.

Analysts say it's far too early to say whether or not RIM's PlayBook, which won't be available until sometime in early 2011, will be a viable competitor to Apple's iPad or any of the emerging tablet PC offerings -- including Dell's Android-powered Streak tablet -- coming to market in near future.

However its operating system, which is purportedly long on multimedia features, light on power consumption and considered far more stable and developer-friendly than its current BlackBerry OS, could be just the elixir RIM needs to reinvigorate developer and consumer interest in its smartphones.

"RIM's dual challenges have been apps and UI," Avi Greengart, an analyst at Current Analysis, wrote in a research report. "QNX gives RIM the opportunity to design a UI from the ground up with entertainment and finger navigation in mind, and gives software developers a new platform to target complete with new tools and application frameworks."

If and when RIM makes a full transition to the QNX OS for its smartphones, the company will have to walk a fine line between generating consumer buzz and developer interest without sabotaging sales and new applications for devices running its existing BlackBerry 5 and BlackBerry 6 mobile OSs.

"If RIM's Curve sales slow in emerging markets, RIM could end up like Nokia -- with healthy sales but unhealthy profits," Greengart added. "If RIM's Bold and Torch sales fall in North America, RIM may not have a market to sell PlayBooks and QNX-based BlackBerries down the road."

But at this critical juncture, when iPads and iPhones are flying off the shelves and Android-based smartphones are selling even faster, any move RIM can make to jumpstart demand and encourage developers to start writing new media-rich apps would be a good first step toward restoring some luster to the BlackBerry brand.

In the second quarter, according to research firm IDC, RIM's share of the worldwide smartphone market fell to 18.2 percent from 19 percent in the year-earlier quarter. Meanwhile, Apple's iPhone saw its share jump to 14.2 percent from 13 percent in the same period and Android devices exploded up from 1.8 percent to 17.2 percent.

"[The QNX OS] gives RIM the opportunity for a fresh start," Greengart said. "RIM's other challenge was getting developers on board in an increasingly app-centric world."

"Moving to a new platform and launching a series of other developer-friendly initiatives should give RIM a dramatic lift here as well," he added."

Larry Barrett is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.


Android, smartphones, Research In Motion, IOS, QNX