Analysis: Can BlackBerry leverage its HTML5 strength to further own the automotive infotainment market?

QNX in Cars
By Chris Umiastowski on 17 Oct 2012 10:38 am EDT
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Yesterday, QNX Software Systems (wholly owned by Research In Motion), made two important announcements. The first, and most important, is the pending launch of an SDK for the automotive market. This December, based on RIM's open source WebWorks project, the HTML5 SDK for the QNX Car 2 application platform will be released.

The second announcement pertains to support for the Nvidia Tegra chipsets for in-vehicle use. This gives the QNX SDK the power to do high quality video renders of things like Google Earth.

Together, what does this means? Think about the BlackBerry 10 WebWorks SDK modified (and extended) to accommodate the kinds of things you'd want to do within a car infotainment system. Specific APIs have been created so developers can get access to actual car data, and control certain systems. For example, a developer might want to have data on speed, acceleration, GPS position, but might also like to control the car's heating and air conditioning system, or interact with the display and audio system.

The QNX press release strongly emphasizes the ability of a an automotive infortainment application developer to emulate the results of an app without having to actually run it on a live car infotainment system. To any mobile developer this is obvious stuff. Sure, we want live hardware to do real world testing. But it's sure nice to have emulators to do some initial conceptual work and build prototype apps.

To the best of my knowledge, RIM is the only company that can now offer this set of tools to the massive automotive market. And while the number of cars making use of this technology in 2012 through 2014 may be small, the opportunity is growing tremendously. Perhaps the biggest driver is the emerging trend of cellular connectivity in cars?

According to a recent report by Scotia Capital Markets, only about 5% of cars have a mobile connection today. I think we can all agree that things will be very different in 10 years. The automotive industry is probably one of the most obvious industries to benefit from cellular data connectivity. In fact, there is a European Union initiative called eCall which mandates all new cars to have mobile connectivity for emergency response by 2015. Unlike the widely debated analog TV shut-off, this doesn't look like the type of government regulation that manufacturers can push back on due to technology readiness reasons. The technology is ready, and it's cheap in comparison to the total price of a car.

So the future is clear. Cars will have high quality, high speed data connectivity via LTE or whatever technology makes sense. RIM and QNX Software Systems have deep relationships with many of the biggest names in the car business. They have a full HTML5-powered SDK to hook into their platform. These are things that Apple and Google do not offer, nor are they likely to offer anytime soon. This is RIM's opportunity to go after and monetize. And the beauty of it is that this market can grow independently of the smartphone market.

Sure, people will want to connect their phones to their cars. That's what Bluetooth is for. It works well. But cars are high-cost items with useful lives in excess of 10 years. In a world where software improves astronomically every couple of years, it seems unacceptable for cars to run on outdated software. RIM can solve this problem and profit from it.

RIM's network operations center (NOC) has a big play here. Car manufacturers will most certainly want to offer applications or hosted services to their customers. A car manufacturer is not a wireless carrier. They don't own any wide area customer-facing communications infrastructure. So if RIM was able to convince carriers to use its NOC back in the early 2000s (and these carriers already ran networks!), do you think RIM will be able to convince automotive vendors to use its NOC? I suspect so. It seems pretty obvious that Audi, BMW, and others do not have skills in running a service network (and by "service" I don't mean oil changes).

Longer term, this is one of those industry shifts that could help earn significant recurring revenue. And that's important considering the risk of RIM losing a good chunk of current BIS revenue.

Technology-wise, I am thrilled to see RIM pushing HTML5. They're leveraging a set of tools that is widely becoming a global standard among web developers. The type of infotainment apps that I imagine people using probably don't need a native toolkit like Cascades and the BlackBerry 10 NDK.

When RIM bought QNX back in April 2010, I had RIM co-founder Mike Lazaridis up on stage at an investor presentation. I asked him why they bought QNX. We knew the near-term answer related to a ground-up replacement of the aging BBOS. But Lazaridis and RIM hadn't yet acknowledged this publicly. So instead, he said that the car is the greatest accessory for a smartphone.

Wouldn't it be interesting if BlackBerry ends up being the #3 smartphone platform, but the #1 automotive platform, generating more profit from cars than from phones?

Reader comments

Analysis: Can BlackBerry leverage its HTML5 strength to further own the automotive infotainment market?

38 Comments

Great analysis Chris! I agree with a lot of your points.

And it would be great if QNX-based BlackBerry platform becomes the #3 mobile platform and the #1 automotive platform.

However, RIM is not going to become the #3 platform by competing with Samsung, Apple/FoxConn, Google/Motorola, Microsoft/Nokia in the hardware market. They are going to get crushed by the economies of scale that these massive eneterprises posses. A lot of these companies share a similar supply chain, and RIM is too small of a player to be able to obtain the cost efficiences that the big players can obtain.

RIM's best bet is to release BB10 on their own hardware, prove to the market that they have an innovative and revoluationary mobile platform and then start working with large OEMs to push BlackBerry 10 OS on their hardware. Similar to the automotive market. RIM is not going to make the cars. However, they are going to be the software that controls the cars.

More of my analysis on Twitter:
http://www.twitter.com/SurrealCivic

awesome article perfect analysis

it would be absolute if they could capture on this people always complain that BlackBerry has no ECOsystem but whos ever had a car ecosystem before this if used right will be a new benchmark in the way people could possibly just integrate it into their own lives so very easily.

My current car uses QNX which is really cool but this is another level to it my GPS system could very easily be replaced by the playbook.

this is the dawn of the control of many systems and a brand new use the the ecosystem approach.

in a way it is compatible with all "those devices". From what i understand about this is in the car it has to be, as most people use apple or android. the qnx car2 works with them all. Just saw it at the SAE convergence. the only difference in the BB10 software is the it does not need the stuff for apple and android. Qnx is a truly universal operating system.

Is there any way we could get a full list of what manufacturers are using QNX software? Something more than just "most automakers". And who are QNX's major competitors in this market currently?

Thanks! I guess that wasn't too hard a find I probably could have found it lol but thanks!

My Volkswagen doesn't use it :( Which is interesting since it's the parent company of both Audi and Porsche. Hopefully VW doesn't pick something else and make their subsidiaries do the same. OR if they decide they like QNX they could use it for their entire porfolio. Volkswagen, Audi, Porsche, Lamborghini, Bentley, Seat, Skoda, VW Commercial Vehicles, Bugatti, Scania, and now Ducatti :)

Ford would do well to convert to QNX. Their systems have been a very public failure. I suspect it has cost them millions in missed sales and has stretched out over several years.

No kidding, I have driven a couple the MS sync cars as rentals the system looks horrible and is no way a clean UI to use while your driving. Microsoft needs to go back to the drawing board with the whole thing and start from scratch with it.

I just bought a brand new 2013 Escape, and the MyFordToch system is very very annoying. Typically it locks at least once day, and rarely knows what Im asking it. and 30 Favorites!!?? really

A good start would be to do what it takes to make BB10 devices (including future PlayBooks) the best platform, bar none, to accompany driving.

There are bits and pieces of turn-by-turn GPS, maps, voice command, music player, and related apps. But none of them are best-in-class apps, there is limited competition in each space, and they haven't been stitched together in any kind of seamless way.

It is a tall order, but I would love to see RIM tackle it by working pro-actively with app developers and including the proper routines and APIs in QNX that would kickstart further app competition and seamlessness. At the end of the day, like Heins said, it is about experience. If all you is build the hardware and OS and hope that developers will come to create the experience, you are taking an awful risk -- RIM should act as a catalyst. Think about this sentence: BlackBerry is, bar none, the best platform to accompany driving. Why not make it true?

Cars are so far behind. They need something like QNX and blackberry to bring them up to speed. I just spent 40,000$ on a 2012 truck and your telling me It doesn't come with a 150$ playbook controlling everything? What the hell

You do realize that the production volume in the automotive industry means that the profitability of a certain model may well come down to shaving a few cents -- or even a few fractions of a cent -- off the production costs, right? Your suggestion of a $150 cost-to-manufacturer feature is several orders of magnitude beyond that. Even as a non-standard option, the costs associated with the physical and software interfaces to the vehicle -- much of that being vehicle-specific, and therefore not able to be spread across several models -- would be huge.

Consider this view of the near future of mobile networks: one LTE account, connect whatever you want to it, including your cars.

Up to this point, the major carriers (in the US market, anyway) have developed plans that go in the exact opposite way: Pay separately for every device, even though you may only be using one device at a time. Yes, your model makes more sense, but it seems to me that it will be quite some time before market forces bring it into being.

I'm sure once RIM breaks into this market Apple will be all over it also, but it's nice to see RIM taking advantage of the skills QNX has generated over its years of development not that any of us doubted its abilities the nay sayers just can't think outside the box and need the reminders

Great blog Chris its always great to see your input on things

Naw, Apple will just convince people that cars aren't cool and noone needs one. I mean other than the iCar which everyone will be driving in 2017.

Apple? They got more problems to worry about than getting into that market. Like working on replacing the archaic IOS and a real Refresh of all their devices.

Since ipod touch>iphone>ipad> to soon released ipad mini it's the same bland boring crap supersized and shrunk.

RIM is going to own the infotainment market. Sure they hold almost all the patents too. Rim will easily regain the #3 spot. Sooner or later iSheep will wake up and see their devices truly suck!

I've been buying shares of RIMM ever since it went lower than $8. RIM is being priced like it's going to bankrupt but I think it's far from being dead.

Here are some of the reasons that I see why RIM is far from being dead and why its shares are worth accumulating at prices less than $8:

1. BB10 will be the most fresh OS and it's also potentially superior even over android and IOS.

2. There is still a need for physical key board out there and BBs pretty much monopolize that feature.

3. Immense international popularity.

4. superior security.

5. best email service.

6. opportunities in automotive.

7. Huge potential in licensing to samsung and other companies.

8. Peek and flow and other BB10 features make it unique from all these similar cellphones.

9. It's capable of true multi-tasking.

10. I read somewhere that their apps are capable of invoking other apps within the program making it more powerful than those apps available for androids and iphones. (I'm not a developer so I'm probably not explaining this in proper terms)

11. Potentially has the best browser, camera, screen resolution.

12. Potentially has the best touch keyboard that can predict multiple languages.

13. Easiest to develop for with apps.

14. The hub and the calendar make it easy for people to check stuff.

15. Mini HDMI port.

16. Dual profile for BYOD.

The two biggest risks I see are:
1. Extreme competition.

2. Potential loss of those services fee that generate over a billion dollars.

Excellent article, and I want that Porsche! Apple is too big to move its carcass anytime soon. RIM is nimble and can develop technology like this under the radar. MS always seems to pump out garbage, its their thing I guess. So RIM is looking good here.

I absolutely think the car is the best smartphone accessory and vice versa! I was hoping this would be the path as soon as they purchased QNX and is quite frankly the main reason I am a RIM enthusiast.

Chris, You have an absolute echo here about revenues ... NOC going more specific, for high-end needs equals more operational margins ...
And of course, the QNX #1 spot perspective is also synonymous of piles of $.
#IlikeThat

Good topic although I'd hoped for quite a bit more depth and a little less rah, rah, rah. QNX is the undisputed CURRENT leader in automotive but if you don't think that car manufacturers are looking very closely at Microsoft's Sync and more importantly Google's self driving car systems, you are deluding yourself. Adding in HTML is fine but remember car manufacturers are paranoid about giving lawyers a chance to sue them over end-user stupidity. They will do everything possible to ensure that web browsing can't be turned on 'accidentally' or through some sort of hacks/rooting.

I very much doubt that they would want to let "apps" on their consoles either as none of them want the support costs that go along with this - "my air conditioner keeps rebooting after I added Angry Birds". HTML5 will help automotive developers develop a UI but beyond that, it won't be very useful to them.

I think the one feature that the PlayBook has that would be HUGE in the car though is the ability to bridge to an existing Blackberry for phone/text/emergency calls and online mapping so you don't have to pay for a monthly fee to have your car up to date like you do with GM's OnStar. Realistically though, any other vendor could do something similar (enough) to this with most modern phones supporting wifi hotspots.

All those folks going "QNX is going to own the world in Automotive..." pay attention to what Google is doing with self-driving cars and real world mapping. That has the potential to make "infotainment" systems as irrelevant as BlackBerry's round one win of the Smartphone wars. The only question in my mind is how does Google monetize the potential liability costs of any accident - perhaps by allowing all passengers in the car web access to movies, browsers, etc... but it doesn't seem enough at first glance.

I say this as a BlackBerry fan with two fantastic PlayBooks.

Today most car manufacturers do not allow you to do things like enter long complicated addresses into your navigation system or watch movies on the front console while the car is in motion. This can be easily defeated on most GM vehicles by putting a simple switch on the purple wire (wheel speed sensor) to trick the car into thinking you aren't moving - even though the GPS will show movement. They can't use the GPS for this as GPS's are always showing a bit of movement. Can you imagine all the people doing this and enabling web/email access with the car in motion? I doubt many manufacturers would take the risk given how they put notices like the ones on thermometers that say "once used rectally, it should not be used orally".

You won't be able to slap apps into your car. The OEMs will lock down the functionality and limit programmatic access to the system. The SDK is intended for the OEMs, not the users.

O/T, does anyone have Chris' contact details?

Chris my understanding about QNX from the car platforms prior to the merger was that it wasn't a signficicantly profitable venture and the amount QNX was generating before the merger was not notable if one looped similiar numbers into RIM's current structure. Since RIM do not currently break out QNX's contribution to the bottom line it's a tough get. The real money would come from the use of the NOC in the same way the phones currently generate it, but from there the sell falls to giving consumers perceived value added, and like the carriers RIM would have to fight with the manufacturer for their share of the pie. Still its very interesting looking at the future, I would love to see some notices that CAR2 is going to be freely available in xyz automobile in the 2013 model year.

I think a few people on the post have not done enough research on QNX. If you go to there website you will see that they not only focus on Automotive, but are used in nuclear plants, Cisco systems Routers that most companies have because of the RTOS QNX has provided them. I would also disagree with cars that drive themselves. Why would you even purchase something like that, you might as well take the bus? or get a driver. I understand the cool factor, but no one in there right mind would trust this. They have also had flying cars for the last 3 years + but you don't see that making qnx irrelevant. Your android/iphone/blackberry have too many glitches to have one speeding down the highway and feel safe. Also qnx has been around for over 30 years experience with operating systems, I would like to think ios and android os will have a hard time competiting.

If you doubt there is a demand for self driving cars I guess you are under 30. The bus doesn't go door to door, and on less busy routes (rural areas) it even costs more per passenger kilometer. As far as I am concerned, my morning commute is as boring as anything and I could use the time more efficiently. As for travelling 260 miles to see the kids...
Then there are all the idiots on the road who should be confined to self driving cars, because they sure as anything are not safe or competent. I would trust algorithms over hormones and aggression any day of the week. Self driving cars won't jump reds, weave in and out on freeways, or tailgate you.

We've had flying cars since the helicopter was invented; turns out they are too expensive and too difficult to fly for ordinary people, most of whom can barely manage road cars (see above).

The self driving car is going to be an enormous market. It will help deal with peak oil (by using around 20% less fuel with the average driver), reduce accidents, allow automatic routing around accidents and onto less busy routes, and potentially solve the problem of people driving around looking for parking spaces. Google wants that market but it doesn't have the OS.

RIM take a look and get some inspiration from GSM-R services, perhaps some ideas and concept brought to automobile industry would be interesting.