I have lamented in the past about RIM’s Blackberry OS and how serious changes are needed to compete effectively with Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS.  The latest iteration, Blackberry 6.0 is improved, but I questioned whether it is enough to compete.  Recently, rumors have surfaced of a new iPad-like device from RIM called the BlackPad which brings the OS question back to the forefront.

The first assumption by most experts is that the BlackPad would be powered by RIM’s Blackberry 6.0 similar to how Apple leveraged iOS for the iPad. This made sense from a time to market and ease of implementation perspective, and is the only choice if RIM is committed to Blackberry OS over the long-term.  However, the latest rumor is that the BlackPad will be based on an OS created by QNX Software. (RIM acquired QNX back in April.) If true, this is a major shift for RIM and potentially represents the long awaited OS rewrite.  If RIM does release the BlackPad with QNX technology then I believe that the smartphones must follow.

A key differentiator in today’s smartphones are supporting ecosystems driven by third party application developers and application stores.  Apple has done a fantastic with its AppStore and Google is trying to emulate the success.  Unfortunately, RIM is a distant third in the race.  A completely new OS would likely require RIM’s third party developers to re-write their applications for the new platform.  These developers would balk at supporting both BB6.0 and QNX-based devices over an extended period of time.  The result is that RIM risks fragmenting their developer community and eroding their competitive position if their devices do not converge on one OS.  Thus, RIM must choose one OS to standardize on and their actions suggest that QNX would be the choice.

In summary, I believe that if the BlackPad does come with a QNX-based system then the future of today’s BB OS is vey much in doubt.  The very fact that they may be using different software for the BlackPad is a strong statement about their confidence in BB OS.

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