Mobile // Mobile Devices
Commentary
6/29/2011
02:41 PM
Eric Zeman
Eric Zeman
Commentary
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RIM's QNX Problem: Superphone Needed, Clock Ticking

Research in Motion is said to have shelved plans for a 10-inch PlayBook, to ship a QNX-based BlackBerry sooner. This is exactly what RIM needs to do.

RIM's management indicated earlier this year that it was exploring the idea of creating a PlayBook larger than the 7-inch introductory model released in April. The logical guess was that RIM planned to scale a version up to the same size as competing models, such as the Apple iPad and Samsung Galaxy Tab, which have 10-inch screens.

It appears those plans have been scrapped, according to a recent report from N4BB. The site claims to have insider information saying that the BlackBerry maker has ceased development on such a product. Instead, the company is going to focus on building the first QNX-powered BlackBerry "superphone."

This is what RIM should have been doing all along, rather than committing much-needed resources to a non-core product.

Given the paltry selection of BlackBerrys sitting on U.S. network operator store shelves--many of which are nearing their first birthdays--it is obvious RIM has focused perhaps too much on getting the PlayBook out the door. The cost has been its soul. With no new smartphones on store shelves so far in 2011, the only products on the public roadmap are two warmed-over BlackBerry Bolds that have been delayed until late summer. Meanwhile dozens of new Android smartphones have been announced this year, some of which include category-leading specs such as 4G.

While the jury may still be out on the PlayBook's success, RIM has already been convicted in the court of public opinion about its weak smartphone lineup. Businesses and consumers alike are voting with their wallets, and buying Android and iOS devices instead of RIM's BlackBerrys. How can RIM win them back? By making a superphone--a smartphone to compete with the Android superphones of today.

N4BB's sources believe RIM's planned superphone will have a 1.2-GHz processor and a 4.3-inch screen. Specs such as these are a good place to start. Add a killer camera, lots of storage, and fast wireless networking, and you have the framework for a competitive device. No other details about this possible RIM superphone are available at the moment.

The problem isn't the hardware, which surely RIM can churn out. It's the software.

RIM plans to bring a new BlackBerry OS to market with the Bold 9900/9930 this summer called BlackBerry 7. Think of it as BlackBerry 6--itself not a year old--with some major refinements. The new superphone in the works won't run BlackBerry 7, though. Instead, it will be based on the same platform used by the PlayBook: QNX. RIM doesn't expect to finalize a smartphone version of QNX until late 2011 or early 2012, which means there won't be any QNX-based BlackBerrys until well into 2012.

Can RIM hold on that long? It has already warned of weak quarters ahead as it transitions between product platforms. BlackBerry 7 won't be any sort of a stopgap, and unless RIM can kick out some vital applications for the PlayBook--such as email--it is going to remain a curiosity in a land of more capable devices.

RIM's problem has always been software. Based on what we've seen of QNX in the PlayBook, we know that RIM has a solid platform in the works. RIM only needs the time to refine it.

Too bad time is one of the many things working against RIM.

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