RIM Acquires UI Designer The Astonishing Tribe

Research In Motion today gave yet another clear signal that it's serious about bringing a new look and feel to its BlackBerry smartphones and PlayBook tablet PCs when it announced the acquisition of The Astonishing Tribe, the Swedish user interface design firm that helped create the original UI for Android HTC G1 smartphone.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

RIM (NASDAQ: RIMM), which continues to feel the heat from Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL) iPhone and iOS on one side and an onslaught of Android-powered devices, will integrate The Astonishing Tribe's UI design with the QNX mobile operating system it acquired in April to revamp its line of BlackBerry smartphones as well as its much-anticipated PlayBook tablet PC.

"We’re excited that the TAT team will be joining RIM and bringing their talent to the BlackBerry PlayBook and smartphone platforms," RIM CTO David Yach wrote in blog post announcing the purchase. "TAT focuses on delivering great user experiences, from a design, technology, and usability perspective."

Combining a state-of-the-art, intuitive user interface with a QNX mobile operating system that's widely regarded as more developer friendly and chalked full of multimedia features could be just the tonic RIM needs to reestablish itself in the increasingly cluttered and cutthroat mobile device sector.

When it became clear that RIM intended to replace its in-house BlackBerry OS with QNX for future mobile device releases, analysts were quick to point out that it would take more than an OS with lower power consumption requirements and more multimedia apps to turn RIM's ship around.

"RIM's dual challenges have been apps and UI," Avi Greengart, an analyst at Current Analysis, wrote in a September 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."

The same applies to the PlayBook, one of a number of so-called "iPad killers" that will hit the shelves early next year. The tablet PC will retail for less than $500, support Adobe Flash 10.1 and HTML5 and now, presumably, incorporate the cutting-edge UI that made The Astonishing Tribe such an intriguing acquisition target.

RIM officials can only hope the makeover will reinvigorate its flagging smartphone sales and give it an entrée into a burgeoning tablet PC market that's already eating into sales of notebooks and laptops in the U.S. and around the world.

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


Blackberry, smartphones, Research In Motion, PlayBook, QNX