RIM may move away from BlackBerry OS for tablets
To harness QNX acquisition for new web platform, seeks mobile ad network too
Published: 20 August, 2010
While many users remain addicted to the BlackBerry software platform, RIM needs to do more than keep its existing base happy - it has to appeal to new user groups and add new web services to keep its smartphones modern and expanding. Despite key improvements like a faster, WebKit browser in the new BlackBerry OS 6.0, this upgrade is widely seen as insufficient to change RIM's competitive position significantly. But it is also working on some more radical, if risky, moves, looking to run an entirely new software platform on its planned tablet range, and planning to build a mobile advertising network.
According to insiders quoted by Bloomberg, RIM is to use the software it acquired with infotainment specialist QNX for its tablet, rather than BlackBerry OS 6.0 (or at least overlaying it enough to hide it from view). When RIM bought QNX, the firm's technology was expected to take a more prominent role in release 6.0 than proved to be the case, but it now seems there may be a different aim in mind - creating a highly distinctive user experience for a new tablet line-up.
This would be in line with strategies of other phonemakers, such as Nokia with MeeGo, Google with Chrome OS and HP with webOS - to use the emerging tablet format to showcase a brand new OS and user experience, more geared to browser/cloud usage and web services than smartphones. This could move the tablet market onwards and steal a march on the Apple approach of extending the existing cellphone software to a larger form factor.
RIM acquired QNX in April for $200m. It is a specialist company mainly working on applications and media for the in-car market, with clients including BMW. However, RIM clearly was interested in its web-oriented platform, existing developer base and notably its simple and fast operating system, with none of the restrictions imposed by legacy BlackBerry code. This could see RIM creating two tablets eventually, one the much rumoured 'companion device' for its smartphones, with the traditional look and feel, and one a new-look range using the 'BlackPad' brand. Although this will take RIM away from its traditional OS for the first time, it will see the firm sticking to its belief that it needs a unique software platform to compete, rather than joining the throng of Android supporters. Others, like Motorola with its TV-oriented tablet project, will use the generic OS but differentiate themselves with key applications.
RIM is also looking to bolster the core BlackBerry proposition with a mobile ad network to compete with Google AdMob and Apple iAd. According to The Wall Street Journal, it has held talks with Millennial Media, but these have stalled on a reported asking price of $400m to $500m (Google paid $750m for AdMob and Apple paid $275m, apparently, for Quattro Wireless. It has now shut down Quattro to focus entirely on iAd).
During its annual BlackBerry Developer Conference last November, RIM executives said it was on track to introduce a new platform enabling developers to integrate mobile ads into their BlackBerry applications. No subsequent details have emerged, apart from a patent application. In April, there were rumors that Microsoft was looking to acquire Millenial but no agreement materialized.