It's become fashionable of late to bash Research In Motion and the decline of all things BlackBerry. With the constant delays of BlackBerry 10, the flop that was the PlayBook, odd behavior by executives, sinking valuation and thousands of layoffs, the trash talk isn't without justification.
But as CEO Thorsten Heins recently implored the Canadian press, the one-time northern king of the smartphone realm shouldn't be counted out of the mobile game of thrones just yet. RIM has a secret weapon -- more overlooked than secret, actually -- and truth be told, it's got the potential to be pretty cool, if properly executed.
BlackBerry 10 will connect users not just to each other, but to the embedded systems that run constantly in the background of everyday life -- from parking meters and car computers to credit card machines and ticket counters.
That's a pretty clear reference to QNX, the operating system that RIM bought a few years ago with a long history of influence in the embedded systems market. QNX real-time operating systems can be found all over, but especially in places where security and precision is paramount, including in medical devices, public transit, air traffic control, nuclear power plants and aboard the International Space Station.
If your vehicle has any kind of infotainment or navigation system, there's a decent chance that the QNX CAR platform might be underneath that pretty (or not so pretty) skin -- the company says it's been licensed for use on 20 million cars worldwide. QNX CAR takes advantage of HTML5 and can interface with not just BlackBerry, but also iOS and Android devices.
A version of QNX underlies the BlackBerry PlayBook OS and will be at the heart of BlackBerry 10. The OS' emphasis on security makes perfect sense given BlackBerry's reputation for providing a secure device that won't give the IT department a panic attack, but Heins' comments this week make it clear that RIM also hopes to capitalize on the QNX legacy in the embedded systems world by trying to succeed in an area that Apple has so far ignored and Google has yet to gain serious traction -- near-field communication.
BlackBerry 10 is more than just a new smartphone. It's an entirely new way of thinking about BlackBerry -- new software powering new devices and new services. While our competitors update their offerings, BlackBerry 10 will be the only mobile platform built from the ground up with the latest technologies in mind -- whether it's mobile video chat or near-field communications that enable you to use your handset like a wallet.
Clearly, BlackBerry 10 won't be all about NFC, but if done right and QNX phones truly do interface with the numerous other systems we encounter on a daily basis in a seamless and intuitive way, it could be a major selling point.
Finally creating the killer digital wallet application -- one that would work easily for things like paying tolls and parking meters -- could also inject RIM with a significant amount of mojo, and who doesn't want a smartphone that can interface with the International Space Station should you ever happen to be in the neighborhood?
Problem is, RIM's fortunes seem more dire than ever and none of this will likely see the light of day for at least six months -- six months during which Apple and Android will also build better and more robust tools while bringing millions of new users to their respective teams.
Tell you what Thorsten -- I won't count you out just yet, but keep in mind that BlackBerrys typically ripen in the fall. Hopefully you've loaded up on plenty of canning supplies and pectin to keep 'em fresh until spring.