Can RIM's QNX handsets compete with the iPhone and Android phones?

Taylor Martin
 from Concord, NC
Published: August 22, 2011

Back in the day, BlackBerrys were the phones to have. But with the entrance of the iPhone and hundreds of Android phones, they quickly became the slowest, most underpowered and outdated handsets on the market. High quality QWERTY keyboards were effectively replaced by large, capacitive touchscreens and battery life was traded for high-powered processors. Gone were the days of Research In Motion's reign.

Over the past three or four years, while both iOS and Android charged forward (on both a software and hardware front), the BlackBerry operating system and its respective hardware remained practically unchanged. The Torch 9800, paired with BlackBerry 6, was easily the biggest update from the Waterloo-based company during this time. But even the Torch was a bit of a letdown for the die-hards.

This ultimately led to RIM slipping in both market and mind share in the US. Ever since, RIM has been playing a perpetual game of catch up, releasing incremental updates that realistically should have come months – maybe even years – ago.

Over the weekend, RIM's latest edition of their BlackBerry smartphone platform and line of devices finally landed on Sprint. While they may not be quite up to the standards of other mobile devices in the same class (like the HTC Sensation 4G or Motorola Photon 4G), they are a major improvement over previous 'Berrys and have garnered quite a positive feedback from long-time fans – myself icluded. They prove that RIM is not resting on their laurels and actually wants to re-enter the race. That said, the devices knowingly came with an expiration date; RIM has confirmed that the current BlackBerry 7 handsets will not officially see an update to the QNX platform. This means they are only a stepping stone release and can only carry the company so far.

RIM has a totally new line of QNX devices in the works, which they have eagerly been calling “superphones.” Thus far, the only info we have on these QNX superphones are the typical rumors and speculation. At the beginning of the month, the BlackBerry Colt was rumored to be the first QNX handset and that it will release sometime in Q1 2012. It will likely ship with a dual-core processor and CrackBerry “received confirmation” that it will be the first all touchscreen (no trackpad) BlackBerry, with a 4.1-inch touchscreen.

Keep in mind that these are only rumors, but it sounds to me like RIM is finally coming around. Dual-core processors, large touchscreens, no buttons? These rumors are starting to sound a lot like the rumors coming from the Android camp, no? I think that's the point here. RIM has been sandbagging while getting their ducks in a row. Over the past year, they have been purchasing mobile-related companies to patch their holes: Torch Mobile to create a better browsing experience, QNX to rebuild their software from ground-up, The Astonishing Tribe to redesign their user interface, etc. Bringing multiple companies together to accomplish one specific goal isn't easy, and I feel that may have been their biggest struggle through 2010 and 2011.

Nonetheless, the rumor mill is winding up, and it sounds like the QNX superphones RIM is currently working on may have what it takes to propel them back into this arms race. It won't be easy, though. Research In Motion has lost a lot of customers to more advanced platforms, and convincing them that they can finally traverse back without feeling like they're re-entering the dark ages is going to be tough. They will have to fight tooth and nail to regain market share, but with adequate specifications, possible Android application support and fun and reliable software, the odds are actually stacking up in their favor.

What say you, folks? Can RIM pull through the current turbulence they're experiencing and surprise the market with some of the first superphones? Or are they just building us 'Berry fans up to let us down one last time?