By Phred Dvorak
BlackBerry maker Research In Motion Ltd. could unveil its new tablet computer—as well as the operating system that will power it—as early as next week at a developers’ conference in San Francisco, said people familiar with RIM’s plans.
The tablet, which some inside RIM are calling the BlackPad, is scheduled for release in the fourth quarter of this year, these people said. It will feature a seven-inch touch screen and one or two built-in cameras, they said.
It will have Bluetooth and broadband connections but will only be able to connect to cellular networks through a BlackBerry smartphone, these people said. Since the tablet won’t be sold with a cellular service, it’s not clear which carriers or retailers will sell the device.
In a significant development, RIM’s tablet will eschew the recently revamped BlackBerry 6 operating system in favor of a completely new platform built by QNX Software Systems, these people said.
RIM bought QNX, a maker of operating systems used in everything from cars to nuclear reactors, earlier this year, in what industry watchers said was a bid to replace software criticized as slow and buggy.
RIM eventually plans to transition its BlackBerry smartphones to the QNX operating system as well, people familiar with RIM’s strategy said.
The RIM tablet is being manufactured by Quanta Computer Inc. of Taiwan, and will run on chips from Santa Clara, Calif.-based Marvell Technology Group Inc., according to people familiar with the tablet’s manufacturing.
RIM said it doesn’t comment on rumors or speculation.
A Quanta spokeswoman said the company is developing tablets for clients but declined to comment on whether RIM is one of them. Executives at Marvell, which already supplies chips for RIM smartphones, said the company has developed a new series for tablets but declined to say whether they are supplying an upcoming tablet for RIM.
The introduction of a tablet and new operating system come at a critical time for RIM, whose BlackBerry phones are facing increasingly tough competition from Apple Inc.’s iPhone as well as handsets that run on Google Inc.’s Android operating system. Research firm Gartner Inc. estimated BlackBerry’s share of world-wide smartphone sales fell one percentage point to 18% in the second quarter of this year versus the previous year—even as the share of Android and Apple devices rose.
A key challenge for RIM has been convincing software developers to create applications for its phones, and the company will spend much of next week’s conference showing the kinds of things that can be done on its new devices—including the recently released Torch.
RIM is readying announcements and demonstrations, including an update on BlackBerry’s mobile advertising platform and an Amazon.com Inc. music application, said people familiar with the plans.
Still, RIM’s tablet will face stiff competition in an increasingly crowded market. The launch of Apple’s iPad in April sparked a rush to build similar devices by a raft of firms from Korean electronics giant Samsung Electronics Co. to Taiwan’s Acer Inc. and Cisco Systems Inc. and Dell Inc. of the U.S. Many of those competing tablets will run Android, meaning RIM’s new operating system will go head-to-head with Apple and Google offerings in tablets as well.
People who’ve worked with QNX’s operating system say it’s a worthy competitor to Apple’s and Google’s platforms, and could go a long way toward addressing complaints that RIM’s devices are slow, unstable and hard to program for. “It was architected from the ground up never to go down,” says Alec Saunders, chief executive of Ottawa-based software developer Iotum Corp.