Mobility

BlackBerry expands Ford partnership for QNX, targets IoT and connected cars as path back to relevance

The once-mighty BlackBerry and its struggle to find the right niche have become an oft-told tale of what not to do in business. Here's how QNX could be the key to BlackBerry's future.

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BlackBerry has signed an expanded agreement with Ford to provide the QNX platform in Ford vehicles.

Image: BlackBerry

BlackBerry is expanding its relationship with Ford Motor Company as it accelerates its move away from hardware and focuses on software, specifically its well-regarded QNX platform and security software.

As part of the agreement, BlackBerry will have a dedicated team working with Ford on expanding the use of BlackBerry's QNX Neutrino Operating System, Certicom security technology, QNX hypervisor, and QNX audio processing software.

Although the value of the deal was kept confidential, Forrester analyst Jeffrey Hammond speculated on the financial side of the agreement and said, "It's significant that the QNX team is dedicating engineers to Ford as part of the deal. That sort of arrangement usually only happens when the a deal is in the 10's of millions (or more) over a long term period."

The future of BlackBerry lies in the QNX platform, according to analysts.

QNX was acquired by BlackBerry in 2010 and Ford chose it to replace Microsoft for its Sync infotainment platform. The QNX platform has a reputation for being secure, and it is already in more than 60 million vehicles from 20 different automakers, including the Sync 3 system in Ford's current year models. It is compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

The deal "makes BlackBerry have a very deep chance of changing. It plays right into IoT and right into connected cars or even self driving cars. It's that important," said William Stofega, an analyst with the International Data Corporation. "It's an operating system that's not just smart, it's highly reliable."

SEE: Can IoT and connected cars save a failing BlackBerry? (TechRepublic)

This agreement strongly anchors BlackBerry's transition from a hardware company to a software company, said Bob Bilbruck, CEO of B2 Group.

"It also allows them to expand their footprint within the connected car segment from just the infotainment part of the IoT equation to now the more meaningful parts of the platforms...The future for BlackBerry is bright because it gives them a major footprint in connected cars with a top three automaker and a huge growing market to derive revenue from," Bilbruck said.

"It will lead to relationships with other partners within the auto industry and other parts of technology. Apple has shown interest in the QNX platform and may either try to hire away QNX engineers or partner with BlackBerry to forward their initiatives in this space also," Bilbruck said.

Hammond said, "I think it shows BlackBerry still has a tenable future in embedded computing, and that they will benefit from the expansion of the Internet of Things. As more and more companies look to connect expensive, durable or safety critical goods to the internet, the concerns that make QNX appealing will give the company continuing opportunities to grow their customer base."

SEE: BlackBerry inks deal with Ford to expand usage of QNX platform (ZDNet)

In terms of its security, Bilbruck said the platform is the only one that is ASIL-D Certified, which means it's the only one ready to create autonomous car driving systems on top of it. QNX provides the fundamental building blocks needed for the in-car modules that control a self-driving car.

"This makes QNX and its features invaluable in the future of the connected car ecosystem and the advancement, and speed, of the advancement of these technologies," Bilbruck said.

Stofega said, "It's a well respected operating system that isn't just in cars but nuclear power plants, everywhere. It's a highly secure operating system. It's something you would use when you want to make sure that there aren't going to be any mistakes or reboots or any of the things that could harm production."

As for what it means overall, Stofega said: "You can't predict anything, anything can happen, but if there's one thing to bet on, it would be BlackBerry and QNX in general."

Bilbruck said: "This means Cinderella (BlackBerry) is back at the ball and this time she isn't going to turn into a pumpkin when the clock strikes midnight in regards to the IoT marketplace. In fact, BlackBerry may become the fairy godmother of these auto manufacturers as far as embedded intelligence systems within their vehicles go. In three short years this could make BlackBerry the 800-pound gorilla again in a fast growing market."

Three takeaways for TechRepublic readers:

  1. BlackBerry has a new agreement with Ford Motor Company to expand its use of BlackBerry's QNX and security software.
  2. Analysts said BlackBerry's push to expand its QNX platform into more vehicles might be just what it needs to become relevant again.
  3. QNX is already in more than 60 million vehicles made by 20 different automakers.

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About Teena Maddox

Teena Maddox is a Senior Writer at TechRepublic, covering hardware devices, IoT, smart cities and wearables. She ties together the style and substance of tech. Teena has spent 20-plus years writing business and features for publications including Peo...

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