RIM buys QNX unit from Harman

Research in Motion Ltd. will acquire Kanata, Ont.-based QNX Software Systems from Harman International Industries Inc. for an undisclosed sum, the companies announced on Friday.

QNX makes the Neutrino and RTOS embedded operating systems, which run on ARM, MIPS, PowerPC, x86 and other platforms, “in virtually every type of embedded environment,” according to the company Web site.

There’s a consensus at QNX that the deal is a positive thing for the company, according to spokesman Paul Leroux. “We’re definitely pumped,” Leroux told IT World Canada Inc.

While he said he couldn’t speak for RIM – and at press time, the BlackBerry maker hadn’t returned calls requesting an interview – Leroux said it was encouraging that the company had expressed interest in opening up new markets for QNX.

“They obviously share a vision about the car,” Leroux said.

QNX has a footprint in a variety of industrial markets, including locomotive control systems, power generation, nuclear reactors and wind turbines, “where you need a reliable real-time operating system,” Leroux said.

But its highest profile is in the automotive sector, where every major car brand and most Tier 1 suppliers use QNX for infotainment and telematics, according to Leroux. General Motors Corp.’s OnStar roadside assistance hardware runs on QNX, for example.

“In addition to our interests in expanding the opportunities for QNX in the automotive sector and other markets, we believe the planned acquisition of QNX will also bring other value to RIM in terms of supporting certain unannounced product plans for intelligent peripherals,” RIM co-CEO Paul Lazaridis said in a press release.

That’s led to speculation that the leaner QNX kernel could be brought into RIM handheld devices, perhaps to deliver cheaper devices for developing markets. But Kevin Restivo, senior analyst with IDC’s worldwide mobile phone tracker unit, calls that counterintuitive.

RIM has been putting considerable effort into gaining developer momentum for its own platform, Restivo said. And the company owes much of its success to its vertical integration of hardware, software, sales and marketing.

“I see licensing the operating system as watering down that effort,” Restivo said.

The QNX acquisition is “atypical” for RIM, which normally doesn’t buy companies with their own operating systems, Restivo said.

But the acquisition allows the BlackBerry to be used in an environment where it hasn’t been to date – the car.

“There are a lot of potential applications for the technology,” Restivo said.

“It helps them create more of a personal area network in the car,” perhaps using Bluetooth as an intermediary, Restivo said.

Potential applications could include streaming video to a backseat TV, real-time weather applications or monitoring the vehicle’s performance, he said. “There are a whole host of things you could do,” he said.
QNX was founded in 1980 and has about 275 employees worldwide. The company was purchased in 2004 by Harman, owner of a number of audio and infotainment brands including AKG, Harman Kardon, JBL and Lexicon, with about 11,000 employees worldwide.

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Dave Webb
Dave Webb
Dave Webb is a freelance editor and writer. A veteran journalist of more than 20 years' experience (15 of them in technology), he has held senior editorial positions with a number of technology publications. He was honoured with an Andersen Consulting Award for Excellence in Business Journalism in 2000, and several Canadian Online Publishing Awards as part of the ComputerWorld Canada team.

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