RIM bought QNX because of Apple.

by alec on April 9, 2010

News is out this morning that Harman International has agreed to sell its QNX Software Systems division to Research In Motion.  TechCrunch reports that this might mean tighter integration with automobiles, since Harman acquired QNX in order to provide software to its automotive customer base.  RIM Co-CEO Mike Lazaridis himself hypes up the automotive possibilities in the release.

I’m not buying it.

For those who don’t know QNX, it’s a micro-kernel based operating system with a sophisticated graphical user interface, a modern POSIX-based tool-chain, and a fully distributable architecture.  In layman’s terms, that means it’s more stable than LINUX, runs in less memory than any of LINUX, OS X, or Windows – even the embedded versions, pretty to look at for users, and easy to develop software for using skills that are relatively common in the industry.  Oh, and did I mention that it sports a touch screen UI, and a fully integrated flash development environment?

QNX has long been seeking a partner with whom to enter the mobile space.  For example, almost 10 years ago I was the marketing VP at QNX for a short period of time.  Even then, QNX CEO Dan Dodge thought that the real prize in the embedded OS market was the mobile handset.  He apparently never gave up, either — see my report from 2008 Mobile World Congress.  Today a marriage to RIM makes a ton of sense for both parties, as increasingly operating systems are the most valuable parts  of the smartphone ecosystem.  In RIM’s hands, QNX could easily give Android, or iPhone OS stiff competition for developer mindshare.

No, this isn’t RIM branching out into automotive.  This is RIM acknowledging that it will lose the war against Apple if BlackBerry OS doesn’t get an upgrade. QNX runs the high-speed TGV trains in France, the space arm on the shuttle, manufacturing plants around the world, automotive systems from dozens of manufacturers, and soon, I’m betting, your phone.

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