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RIM Faces Challenges in Moving to New OS

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Research In Motion’s acquisition of Swedish mobile UI designers The Astonishing Tribe will surely lend some luster to the aging BlackBerry OS, but the deal’s long-term impacts will likely be more prominent in RIM’s (s rimm) upcoming QNX platform.

RIM is moving aggressively to extend QNX to its entire smartphone lineup, Jeffries & Co. analyst Peter Misek said last week, adding that, within a year, every new device will be running QNX. But as Canaccord Genuity’s T. Michael Walkley wrote last week, winnowing the portfolio of new BlackBerry OS devices could damage the company amid increasing competition in the space:

“We believe RIM will likely lose high-end smartphone market share and higher-end North American subscribers over the next several quarters,” Walkley noted, “due to limited new high-end product launches ahead of new QNX smartphones combined with improving competitive smartphone offerings such as the Samsung and HTC Android based smartphones at most carriers and the iPhone likely launching at Verizon (s vz) in February.”

There’s no question that BlackBerry OS is a quality platform, particularly in the enterprise. But end users — who increasingly get to choose which devices they carry to work — simply want a compelling smartphone experience. Android and iOS have successfully eaten into RIM’s market share both in the US and worldwide. Though Blackberry emphasizes productivity, Android and iOS are simply superior for tasks that extend beyond the work environment: browsing the web, playing games and using other kinds of apps.

Nonetheless, there is tremendous opportunity for any manufacturer who can combine user-friendly features with an enterprise-minded OS. In his note last week, Misek cited QNX’s “great” browser, superior security and low power consumption. Just as importantly, QNX — which very few people have actually laid their hands on— appears to deliver the same kind of compelling user experience that fueled the success of iPhone and Android. And nobody is as well positioned to take advantage as RIM, given its reputation for rock-solid business apps and its massive mindshare among IT departments who still have some influence over which devices staffers carry.

To achieve its potential success, RIM will need to move deftly from one OS to the other, supporting the aging Blackberry platform while aggressively building an ecosystem for its new one. For my thoughts on how to do that, see my weekly update at GigaOM Pro (subscription required).

Image courtesy of Flickr user Honou.

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9 Responses to “RIM Faces Challenges in Moving to New OS”

  1. I’d just like to point out that your statement that few people have seen QNX is flat out false. It is one of the leading embedded operating systems in the world and used in things from car computers to radios to a multitude of other devices. Until RIM bought them, it was even free and open source. A more correct statement would be that few people have seen the new BB OS running on QNX.

  2. Yeah, like the world needs yet another smartphone OS – or another Content Delivery Device tablet.
    RIM could well do with spending the time and money improving the user-experience (and issues) that current users to the millions of BBs out there already have – and in doing so, quite possibly attract new users. I get that ‘Shiny & New’ attracts consumers, but frankly, its RIM’s lack of support and inspiration that is encouraging users (old and new) to look at the alternatives. Doing the ‘same old’ with a new OS and abandoning the traditional users in the process just ain’t likely to cut it.

    RIM looks to be doing a Palm.

    • Colin Gibbs

      I’m not sure how “improvable” BlackBerry OS is, Baz, and I don’t think there’s anything RIM could do to make it competitive with Android or iOS. The move to QNX may fail, but I don’t see how RIM has any choice.

    • Colin Gibbs

      I agree that they’ll need to tread lightly, Laurentiu. But the last company to kill off an old OS in favor of a new one is Microsoft — and we’ll have to wait to see how that turns out.

      • Oh, I think you’ll find that Microsoft has never killed off an OS. Dig deep enough in the code of Win7 and you’ll likely find remnants of Win 1.0 (if not DOS). They’ve trimmed, added tons of new lines of code and renamed over time, but never given up entirely on the OS.
        Apple once bit the bullet and moved to a new OS, but they left in transitional emulation software for awhile – and Macoyltes are more likely to buy the ‘newest and shiniest’ from Apple (whether they need it or not)ASAP, unlike their PC cousins, so the old OS disappeared sooner.

        But to ask smartphone users to move to a new OS ‘just because’ smacks less of tech improvements and more of profit-making. And may leave millions of current BB users with orphan products.