BlackBerry Maker RIM is Going Through a Major Transition – Will it Take Them to the Top?

RIM and BlackBerry have been in the media all too often lately and mostly for the wrong reasons.  There has been lots of speculation as to the future of the company, and there is certainly a negative sentiment surrounding the organisation.  Why?  It has a lot to do with them not taking the competition seriously and adapting to the industry’s biggest changes.  But now they’re in the midst of a major transition.  Will it see them rise to the top and prove the media wrong?  It all boils down to “Can they execute?”

Let’s recap.

RIM essentially invented the smartphone and back in 2007 was sitting at the top of the industry.  Then came along Apple with the iPhone, and then there was the Android operating system backed by Google.  These new entrants changed the game by focusing on the consumer market instead of business clientele, and offered features that RIM ignored such as cameras, easy third party integration and better web browsing.  And to top it off, they were generally easier to use and nicer to look at.

At the end of 2007, when the iPhone debuted, it appeared as though RIM wasn’t too worried.  They were convinced their technology was superior (which in many ways, it still is…) and they had a commanding presence in the consumer markets and especially in the business world.  Now fast forward to 2009.  A few years more of producing incrementally better phones, and now they were visibly worried.  Their market share in the consumer space was bleeding and many businesses were considering cutting costs by allowing their employees to use their personal phones for work purposes.  Bad news for the BlackBerry maker…

The good news is that this is when they began righting the ship.  They bought Torch Mobile to make an immeasurable improvement to their web browser, and then in 2010, they acquired QNX – makers of a real-time operating system and TAT (The Astonishing Tribe) – a renowned Swedish design house that specialises in user interfaces.  However, just like any big vessel, it takes time to change course.

Now, let’s come back to the present.  All of the BlackBerry phones produced to date, have run on a Java based Operating System (OS).  RIM is in the midst of a major transition from this old Java OS, to a new operating system running on QNX.  In fact, we’ve got a taste of what this system will look like as it’s currently running on the BlackBerry Playbook tablet, and it looks very promising…

Why the transition to a new operating system?

The old Java OS was slow and clunky and couldn’t easily meet the needs and performance of the industry today.  QNX however, is a game-changer.  QNX is a microkernel real-time operating system (as opposed to monolithic kernels like Windows).  A microkernel architecture means it runs as lots of small separate pieces.  This makes it inherently more stable because if one piece stops working, that single piece can then be shut down and restarted.  It also makes modifying the OS quicker.  The real-time part means it can guarantee availability/predictability and switch tasks (multitask) much, much, quicker than other operating systems.  As a testament to the power and ubiquity of QNX, it is run in all sorts of mission-critical systems in aviation, industry and automotive; everything from nuclear power plants, to the Canada Arm on the Space Shuttle, to the biggest internet routers.  In a nutshell, it’s an awesome operating system and most of us use their technology on a daily basis without even knowing it.

Why is the transition taking so long?

Part of RIM’s unique technology rests in something the user never sees – a whole bunch of secure systems and servers that are responsible for push email, bbm and more.  All of these were designed for the Java phones and not QNX – that’s why there was no native email when the PlayBook tablet came out.

Starting in 2012, we’ll start to see the fruits of the long and painful transition for RIM.  We’ll see new phones and the PlayBook, all running on the new QNX based operating system, with a modern state-of-the-art user interface.  And lots of apps will follow…

Hopefully at least…  How the market takes all of this depends on how well RIM can bring all of the different pieces together.  It seems they’ve learned their lessons, they must execute and produce an overall rock solid user experience.



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