BlackBerry reaches preliminary buyout deal; what’s next for QNX?

What happened?

Earlier today, in an announcement that probably surprised no one, BlackBerry revealed that it had reached a preliminary, $4.7 billion deal to be acquired by a consortium led by Fairfax Financial Holdings Limited. Fairfax already owns approximately 10% of the company, and would likely take the company private upon completion of the deal.

VDC’s View

When I first read this news, my thoughts immediately turned to QNX Software Systems. When QNX was acquired by BlackBerry (then RIM) in 2010 and subsequently tasked with saving its new parent company’s ailing smartphone business, we reacted with what I would call tempered skepticism. After all, while Neutrino was (and remains) a robust operating system with a rich heritage in a variety of embedded systems, it had never actually been deployed in mobile phones prior to the acquisition. Several years later, it would appear that our question “Can QNX Save RIM?” may have been answered.

That said, the task with which QNX was charged was not an easy one, and the company can hardly be blamed for BlackBerry’s struggles. In fact, QNX remains an extremely valuable asset to its owners – whoever they may be. But how will things change for QNX in the face of yet another ownership change? And what might new owners do with QNX?

If somehow released from its BlackBerry shackles, I expect QNX will double down on its automotive efforts and take a much more aggressive stance against Microsoft and the myriad Linux-based competitors in this space. This area has been fiercely competitive during the last 12-18 months, and considering the volume of connect cars expected to hit the streets in the next several years, the stakes are incredibly high. Of course, the operative word in the first sentence of this paragraph is “if” – and that “if” is a big one. A much more likely scenario is that QNX will continue to devote a large portion of its development efforts to digging BlackBerry out of its hole. Unfortunately I’m not much more optimistic about the prospects of that option – new owners or not – than I was several years ago.

Perhaps the best scenario for QNX would be for Dan Dodge to pull a Michael Dell and buy the company back himself. Only time will tell…