What it is: Blackberry was once the smartphone leader until the iPhone arrived. Now Blackberry could be the next leader of the self-driving car market.
At one time, Blackberry dominated the smartphone market. Blackberries were considered status symbols for every corporate executive. Then Apple introduced the iPhone and the market share of Blackberry has finally dropped to almost zero with no hope of coming back. For all intents and purposes, Blackberry is dead as a smartphone manufacturer.
Yet Blackberry has pinned its hopes on the self-driving car market. For self-driving cars to run, they need an operating system and right now, Blackberry dominates the car operating system market with their QNX operating system. Not only has QNX been around for years so it’s fully tested, but it’s fast and secure. Speed is necessary because the operating system needs to transfer data quickly where milliseconds can make the difference between a self-driving car spotting an obstacle and avoiding it or crashing into it. Security is equally important because you don’t want hackers taking control of your vehicle and running you into a tree.
QNX is faster and more secure than Linux, its closest rival. Even Apple’s CarPlay relies on QNX. So for the short-term, QNX looks like the dominant self-driving car operating system. For that reason, QNX will likely become one of the leaders of the self-driving car movement.
Apple’s Project Titan is supposed an Apple Car, but may actually be an Apple-designed, secure operating system similar to QNX. This would likely match Apple’s goals of not being dependent on another company for its underlying technology. Of course, any Apple Car operating system would be years behind Blackberry’s QNX but as the iPhone demonstrated by wiping out Blackberry in the smartphone market, early leadership is never a guaranteed of long-term success.
Any self-driving car manufacturer would have several choices for a car operating system:
- Apple’s Project Titan software
- Another company’s operating system
Out of all these options, only QNX is already tested and secure. Any other company, including Apple, would need to create a real-time operating system that far exceeds QNX. If a rival merely duplicates QNX, there would still be little reason for anyone to use that rival because QNX would still offer a longer track record of speed and security. So for the short-term, Blackberry could stage a major comeback with QNX as its self-driving car operating system.
Yet companies like Google, Tesla, and Apple will likely prefer not being dependent on another company like Blackberry. Apple, in particular, likes to control as much as possible in their products to maintain a competitive advantage and optimize their products. Although Apple’s CarPlay relies on QNX, it’s a safe bet that Apple would like to own their own operating system for self-driving car technology instead.
That might mean a future where manufacturers of self-driving cars can choose a particular operating system to use. Just like many people prefer the safety and compatibility of Windows for PCs, so will today’s self-driving car manufacturers prefer the safety of QNX.
But that’s only for today. Just as the iPhone blind-sided Blackberry in the smartphone market, it’s possible that Apple or another company could blindside Blackberry once more in the self-driving car operating system market. If anyone knows how to blindside Blackberry, it’s Apple.
It’s highly unlike Apple is planning to build their own cars. It’s far more likely that Apple is planning to build their own car operating system. That means Blackberry’s current lead with QNX may not last for long. QNX’s speed and security features might be overlooked if Apple (or another company) offers a car operating system that offers speed and security along with so much more. Think of augmented reality displayed on car windshields for cars still controlled by human drivers.
The future of self-driving cars is coming faster than you might think and Blackberry is leading the way with QNX. Hopefully Blackberry will work together with others to keep QNX as the underlying foundation while other companies build additional features on top of QNX. Or if the Apple Car project turns out to be a software initiative, we could see Blackberry get cut off at the knees in a second growing market.