According to informed sources sighted by the likes of BusinessWeek and The Wall Street Journal, Research In Motion is set to debut its next major platform this week at its annual developer conference. Does that mean a QNX-powered tablet is on the way? If so, is that what developers really want or need?
First, RIM has hinted that it is debuting a "major new platform" this week. Since RIM debuted BlackBerry 6 only a few weeks ago, what could it be referring to: The QNX-based tablet computer. How does that fit into RIM's corporate and developer strategy?
QNX was a separate company until RIM bought it earlier this year. QNX's designs are said to be good, and inline with what is being offered by Apple and Google. Why is that significant? RIM needs a better story to sell to developers, many of which have moved on from RIM's design tools to Apple and Google's.
When RIM debuted BlackBerry 6, it very specifically pitched the new operating system to prosumers and everyday smartphone users. Even though John Q. Public is more interested in apps than ever, the enterprise has always been interested in applications. RIM needs to continue to sell the enterprise app story in a big way.
BlackBerry 6 is a solid foot forward in the right direction for RIM, but it is still along the same path that RIM has tread for years. The bad news for RIM is that it appears BlackBerry 6 is off to a tepid start. Sales reports of the first BlackBerry 6 device, the Torch, have not been spectacular. That immediately dampens enthusiasm for BlackBerry 6.
If RIM wants more developers to tackle creating apps for BB6, it needs to get more hardware out in the market running the new OS.
QNX represents a new path altogether. Form factor and hardware aside, a tablet device has many of the same needs that smartphones do: They need the same (if not better) email experience; they need the same browsing experience; and they need the same level of enterprise control when it comes to security and policy enforcement.
QNX, or whatever RIM decides to call it, needs to at least offer all that RIM has included until now with respect to enterprise communications and security. That's first and foremost. It needs to be new and different, but not so much so that it takes way from the core BlackBerry experience and policy control/enforcement story.
Second, RIM needs to sell developers on QNX's story. Whatever it is that RIM believes QNX can offer developers, RIM needs to present not only a clear path to adoption and success, but a path that pushes beyond the near-term into the future.
RIM can't ignore the developers that have long toiled to make its platform a success. Backward compatibility is a huge deal, but so is opportunity down the road. RIM needs to marry the two, and convince developers that the union will last. Convincing developers that they'll be able to make real money creating apps for the BlackBerry 6 and QNX platforms is key.
Third, RIM needs to push beyond the evolutionary step with BB6 and take the big plunge that puts it at the forefront of smartphone platforms once again. A new platform, such as a tablet with brand new software, could indeed allow RIM to do that. But again, bringing developers along for the ride is mandatory. RIM will need to sell developers on a clear hardware story, a clear apps story, and a clear revenue story. It will have to answer the question: "How can I make money writing apps for BlackBerry products?"
The bigger issue is, does RIM stick with one platform, or expand to two? With BlackBerry 6 less than two months old, there's no way RIM is going to ditch it in the near future.
The QNX software is said to be headed for the tablet first, and smartphones later. Will it be BlackBerry 7? Whatever RIM decides to call it, having two platforms, rather than one, to develop for won't necessarily improve the developer story for RIM.
RIM's position is not envious. It needs to make radical shifts, but remain true to its core. It needs to push forward, while looking back. It needs to not only match today's competition, but surpass it entirely.
That's a tall set of orders. Can RIM meet them?