The current BlackBerry 6 platform has deep roots that stretch back to a decade ago, when RIM was getting started in the push email business. That was long before you could actually make a phone call on one. The forthcoming BlackBerry 7 OS is more of the same, with some additional features tacked on. RIM has tried to keep up with the Joneses by adding touch to its user interface, but compared to iOS and other touch-friendly platforms, BlackBerry phones are found lacking.
RIM has decided to end the current platform and start over with one based on QNX, which is a flavor of Unix that is targeted at embedded systems. The BlackBerry PlayBook tablet is based on QNX and you can tell it was designed with touch in mind.
Rather than prolong the agony, RIM may be rushing at least one QNX-based smartphone to market before the end of 2011: the Colt. According to Engadget, the specs of the Colt are not quite bleeding edge. It has a single-core, 1.2-GHz processor and a 4.3-inch screen. Respectable specifications for a year ago, but with dual- and quad-core devices on the horizon, RIM should really put its best foot forward and come out with something that at least puts it in the top tier of devices that will be around in four to five months.
What is interesting is the QNX platform may not support the current BlackBerry Enterprise Server. Instead, it will support Microsoft's Exchange ActiveSync protocol. This means anyone with an Exchange server can deploy the devices without adding extra hardware and software support. Consumers can easily hook up to Gmail, Hotmail, and other email services that use ActiveSync.
In some ways RIM finds itself in the same position Microsoft was in: declining share and stuck with a platform that has been around way too long. Windows Mobile had its roots in the mid-1990s, and it simply couldn't keep up with platforms written from the ground up in recent years, like the iPhone and Android. Both of those platforms took the market by storm and left platforms like PalmOS, Windows Mobile, Symbian, and BlackBerry, all part of the old guard, in the dust. PalmOS was replaced by WebOS by Palm, now owned by HP. Over two years old, WebOS has failed to garner any significant share. Windows Phone 7 is replacing Windows Mobile. Nine months after launch, it, too, has failed to garner much interest in the marketplace.
RIM has one significant difference though. Both PalmOS and Windows Mobile were significantly smaller than--and had already lost significant share to--iOS, Android, and BlackBerry. RIM still has enough share that it can hopefully switch to the new platform before the current one is considered dead. Microsoft and Palm waited about a year or two too long with their conversion.
RIM needs to make a move quickly, and getting QNX out sooner rather than later will help. It just needs to come out with a complete device that impresses people and not some half-hearted attempt that will be thought of as the new Storm. RIM, you only get one chance to make a good first impression. Colt needs to be executed successfully.