RIM Faces Challenges in Moving to New OS

Research In Motion’s acquisition of Swedish mobile UI designers The Astonishing Tribe will surely lend some luster to the aging BlackBerry OS, but the deal’s long-term impacts will likely be more prominent in RIM’s (s rimm) upcoming QNX platform.

RIM is moving aggressively to extend QNX to its entire smartphone lineup, Jeffries & Co. analyst Peter Misek said last week, adding that, within a year, every new device will be running QNX. But as Canaccord Genuity’s T. Michael Walkley wrote last week, winnowing the portfolio of new BlackBerry OS devices could damage the company amid increasing competition in the space:

“We believe RIM will likely lose high-end smartphone market share and higher-end North American subscribers over the next several quarters,” Walkley noted, “due to limited new high-end product launches ahead of new QNX smartphones combined with improving competitive smartphone offerings such as the Samsung and HTC Android based smartphones at most carriers and the iPhone likely launching at Verizon (s vz) in February.”

There’s no question that BlackBerry OS is a quality platform, particularly in the enterprise. But end users — who increasingly get to choose which devices they carry to work — simply want a compelling smartphone experience. Android and iOS have successfully eaten into RIM’s market share both in the US and worldwide. Though Blackberry emphasizes productivity, Android and iOS are simply superior for tasks that extend beyond the work environment: browsing the web, playing games and using other kinds of apps.

Nonetheless, there is tremendous opportunity for any manufacturer who can combine user-friendly features with an enterprise-minded OS. In his note last week, Misek cited QNX’s “great” browser, superior security and low power consumption. Just as importantly, QNX — which very few people have actually laid their hands on— appears to deliver the same kind of compelling user experience that fueled the success of iPhone and Android. And nobody is as well positioned to take advantage as RIM, given its reputation for rock-solid business apps and its massive mindshare among IT departments who still have some influence over which devices staffers carry.

To achieve its potential success, RIM will need to move deftly from one OS to the other, supporting the aging Blackberry platform while aggressively building an ecosystem for its new one. For my thoughts on how to do that, see my weekly update at GigaOM Pro (subscription required).

Image courtesy of Flickr user Honou.

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