IoT & Embedded Technology Blog

How Many Operating Systems Does It Take for RIM to Sell a Smartphone?

Today, Research in Motion (NASDAQ: RIMM) made two announcements that should alter the face of competition in the mobile device market.

  1. RIM officially announced that it will transition QNX’s Neutrino OS to be the basis of their next smart(“super”)phone OS
  2. The company’s forthcoming foray into the Tablet market will be bolstered by support for Android applications via a Virtual Machine managed by QNX’s OS.

Rim android 
VDC’s View

QNX has been a stalwart of the embedded OS market for years, serving everything from automotive infotainment to telecom infrastructure to industrial automation devices.  Mobile devices, however, had mostly remained outside of the mobile/CE industry. When RIM first announced their acquisition of the company, however, we thought that the relationship could lead to QNX appearance in new device classes. Over recent months, RIM’s true intentions with QNX have become more clear and have evolved to encompass much more than “intelligent peripherals” and tight integrations for automobiles.

The mobile phone market, however, has evolved rapidly over the last few years and – as you all know – the consumeratization of the smartphone market has fractured RIM’s once dominant position in the market as more users adopt iPhones and Android-based devices.  I do have to admit that I own a BlackBerry Bold and am happy with the device, but I am very frustrated by the comparatively small number of applications available to me.  It looks like RIM may now be taking action to address that deficiency with the QNX Neutrino-powered PlayBook positioned to support Android apps and QNX OS similarly announced to power the next generation of BlackBerry smart/"super" phones.

Although RIM was the first to acknowledge that any implementation of the Android apps couldn’t be as fast as one would expect from native applications, this move should give their ecosystem a boost and potentially create a pull-through for Android-app developers to attempt to port their applications to run on Neutrino natively. Assuming this move does help Blackberry compete at a more even standing with Android-based and Apple devices, the larger benefit may in fact come from the use of the QNX OS itself. 

Unlike Android and iOS, Neutrino was designed for operation with applications that have real-time requirements – so to that end you could assume that it has the potential to have a performance advantage (in certain implementations).  But, perhaps most interestingly, we may see a shift in device performance once more multicore processors begin shipping in phones. The capabilities already incorporated (for years) into QNX’s OS provide developers with a host of options (symmetric multiprocessing, “bound” multiprocessing/task affinity, etc.) to help extract more efficient performance out of applications running over multicore hardware architectures.

QNX’s core business, however, has always been with OEMs building entire systems, not just applications.  The big question will be: how does RIM ensure third-party application developers have the knowledge to take advantage of these features and how can the BlackBerry device federate access to the OS and maintain security?

Also, with many other embedded OS vendors offering hypervisors that can enable Android as a guest OS, how will the success of this phone/tablet platform impact the end devices created and business models used by other embedded/mobile system manufacturers?


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