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RIM May Use Tablet Operating System in BlackBerrys

RIM May Use Tablet OS in BlackBerrys
The new BlackBerry PlayBook tablet computer. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

(Corrects to say 10,000 programs in ninth paragraph.)

Sept. 29 (Bloomberg) -- Research In Motion Ltd., whose new BlackBerry PlayBook tablet runs on software bought as part of a $200 million acquisition in April, is considering using the same operating system in BlackBerry smartphones.

“There’s no reason to rule it out,” Alan Brenner, senior vice president, BlackBerry Platform, said today in an interview. He said RIM’s senior management has signaled that such a move might make sense, though the company hasn’t announced plans.

Bringing the QNX software into RIM’s phones would mark a shift away from the BlackBerry OS, the operating system RIM has relied on for a decade that’s now losing ground to rivals such as Google Inc.’s Android and Apple Inc.’s iPhone. Android phones, attractive to consumers because of their wider range of games, news and other downloadable software, are set to eclipse BlackBerry’s market share by the end of 2010, Gartner Inc. says.

For its tablet, Waterloo, Ontario-based RIM opted for QNX because even the latest version of BlackBerry OS included legacy software that limits what devices can offer consumers, at least one person familiar with RIM’s tablet plan said last month.

While QNX’s software is used to help control music and media features in Porsche sports cars, it is also used in the control systems for nuclear power plants and the U.S. Army’s unmanned Crusher tank.

That will give it a higher level of reliability than rival operating systems built for smartphones and adapted for tablet devices, co-Chief Executive Officer Jim Balsillie said in an interview. RIM bought QNX Software Systems from Harman International Industries Inc. in April.

Attractive to Developers

An additional boon to QNX is that it may allow applications built for Android, the world’s fastest-growing smartphone platform, to be more easily ported to RIM devices, says Mike Abramsky, an analyst at RBC Capital Markets. QNX and Android share the programming standard, Posix.

“There’s certainly some merit to the ability for that level of portability,” Tyler Lessard, RIM’s vice president of global alliances and developer relations, said in an interview. “Are we lowering the bar for people to port existing products from other operating systems like Android, iOS, and others and Linux? Yes, absolutely. Is it great to be able to tap into that existing developer experience? Absolutely.”

RIM’s App World features more than 10,000 programs, trailing the more than 250,000 that can be downloaded from Apple’s App Store and the more than 80,000 that Android offers for handsets built on its free software by manufacturers including Motorola Inc., HTC Corp. and Samsung Electronics Co.

Web-Friendly Devices

RIM rose $1.45 to $48.36 at 4 p.m. New York time on the Nasdaq Stock Market. The stock has lost 28 percent this year, compared with a 36 percent gain for Apple.

RIM’s share of the global smartphone market slid to 18.2 percent in the second quarter from 19 percent a year earlier, researcher IDC said. Apple’s share rose to 14.2 percent from 13 percent and Android surged to 17.2 percent from 1.8 percent.

“If I were in RIM’s shoes, I would be looking at how I could attract the Android developers with QNX,” said Alec Saunders, a former vice president of marketing at QNX and Microsoft Corp. executive. He’s now CEO of Ottawa-based phone-app developer Iotum.

Balsillie said the notion that smartphone or tablet success should be defined only by the number of apps a company offers is a “flawed construct.” He said many apps were built because users couldn’t access the full website with their mobile device.

RIM this week unveiled WebWorks, a Web-based platform that developers can use to build apps for RIM devices.

“Our developer strategy is called the Web,” Balsillie said. “I’m not going to try to bring developers to mobility. I’m going to try make the mobility Web-friendly -- 100 percent.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Hugo Miller in Toronto at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Elstrom at

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