Do you remember the Blackberry? It was the device of choice for many years and was probably the device that devalued every “mobile” worker by encouraging users to answer emails at any time of the day or night regardless of whether it was work or private time. Managers loved the fact that they could squeeze more hours out of their employees.
Blackberry brought email to the device in a way that Nokia and others couldn’t and they rode a wave of success for maybe a decade until Apple, Google and others brought full graphical touchscreens to the market. From then on, Blackberry struggled in the phone market and from 2011 their revenue fell off a cliff.
The company was originally called Research in Motion (RIM) and started selling pagers in the mid 1990s and they figured out how to get email through it, naming it the Blackberry Pager. Then in 2000 the company released its first smartphone using its own operating system, however by 2015 having been hit by the competition, they dropped their own operating system in favour of Google’s Android. Later they stopped manufacturing phones altogether and simply rebranded others from Alcatel.
Like Nokia, who started by making boots and morphed into a phone company, Blackberry needed to refocus and started to acquire other technology companies to provide better access to devices and associated security products. One acquisition was Quantum Software Systems who developed an operating system called QNX.
QNX has now become the core of some new offerings by Blackberry. QNX is a micro-kernel system which means that it has a very small core that launches smaller code modules as and when needed rather than a more traditional type that loads everything up first before starting. The old style systems require larger memory and processing power and QNX uses a much smaller footprint to run and was therefore suited to smaller software programs such as in-car infotainment systems.
Blackberry have cottoned on to the power of QNX as an operating system to manage all of the technology used in autonomous cars. Because the operating system is made up of smaller components, it is easier to secure each one and also provides a buffer should one set of sensors fail – it won’t kill the whole system. We are all experienced in having a system crash and that is the last thing a passenger needs whilst on the move! I wrote about technology security recently and it will be systems like QNX that will be at the core of the protection.
A recent report suggested that Blackberry were in discussions with Ford, General Motors and Jaguar Land Rover to expand the use of QNX. Several deals have already been done to embed QNX into future cars and one that stood out was with Baidu, the Chinese search engine, who are developing a system called Apollo which Baidu describe as the “Android” of autonomous cars.
Apollo has also signed with Ford and Hyundai to implement their QNX based systems into new cars. Alongside Apollo will be CarLife, Baidu’s connected car system to provide a full information system to the car and passengers.
Blackberry has been on a drive to build partnerships in the autonomous vehicle market. As well as Baidu, they have signed an agreement with Qualcomm to use their chips and also with Delphi to develop greater security for the systems. Interestingly, Delphi is also partnering with Intel, a direct competitor to Qualcomm!
This market is about to explode into a massive business as more components get added to cars until we see the fully autonomous vehicles being allowed to run on our roads. I can envisage portions of the technology flowing down through the pricing levels of the cars available in the near future.
This could be Blackberry’s saviour, however, I feel that they are ripe(!) for a takeover by another technology company who can afford to invest big dollars to grab a large share of the market – and keep it this time. At their peak their stock was priced at $144 and in recent years it has traded in single digits and their revenue has declined year-on-year, so the refocus on a new market is badly needed, however, they look like they couldn’t fend off a hostile takeover from an organisation desperate to enter this new lucrative market.