I saw a summary of Mike Lazaridis’s appearance at the D: Dive Into Mobile conference, and in it he hints at the future of the BlackBerry, and a possible convergence between the handsets and PlayBook. It appears that the plan is to eventually develop handsets that also run the QNX operating system that runs on the PlayBook. To do that, though, apparently requires dual core processors. When I read this, I was astounded. Now, the technologist in me is more than happy to get as many cores and CPU’s stuffed into one machine as I can get. But, the pragmatist in me wonders what this does in terms of power consumption, heat management and price. I also have to start to wonder about the prowess of RIM engineers if they truly feel that they need substantially more hardware to be able to run what should be a lighter-weight system. Apple and Google manage to get their operating systems to run on single-core machines, and both offer modern systems with multithreading, multitasking and predictable device interaction. If RIM believes that they need a dual core to be viable, just imagine what iOS or Android would look like with significantly better hardware.
Overall, the answers and statements from Lazaridis at the conference did not inspire confidence in the future of RIM. Naturally, he wasn’t going to make substantial statements about the future, but he did seem to do a lot of hedging about why RIM was further behind Apple and the Google phones, and losing ground. RIM still rules the enterprise, but their grip is slowly slipping. They are a non-factor in the retail market, despite statements that say their enterprise features should appeal to the retail customer. They don’t. What retail customers seem to want, among lower prices and more storage, are apps, and lots of them. The fragmentation in the BlackBerry line, and the introduction of the PlayBook fragments their product line more.
My concern is that it looks like RIM doesn’t have a cohesive strategy for their future product. I don’t seem them easily walking away from the cheaper handset market, and as such, that will probably relegate them to whatever BlackBerry OS is running now (and with the paltry selection of apps and content that comes with it). The first generation or two of dual core handsets are not likely to be cheap, so rather than QNX being a unifying platform, it remains one of a pair of platforms for app developers. And while this is happening, they will continue to lose marketshare on handsets as iOS and Android devices continue to grow.
RIM needs to take a hard look at where they are. I think that to attract more developers and make their products “stickier” with their current customers, they need to find a way to get QNX to work on some number of existing handsets. At a minimum, it needs to work on the products they have been shipping for the past 12-18 months. This, along with upcoming units plus the PlayBook, would give developers access to a customer base measured in multiple millions, and give some potential for good revenue. Otherwise, they stand a chance at being relegated as a also-ran, appealing mainly to enterprises that don’t care much about apps, and just want voice, e-mail, address book and calendar services from their handsets.