Technology

BlackBerry’s market share has eroded, but QNX’s trump card could be security

But analysts and QNX itself suggest a more promising outcome, with BlackBerry already taking on a new, larger role as car-computer traffic cop.

“We saw this coming years ago,” said Grant Courville, BlackBerry QNX’s vice-president of products and strategy.

“We saw infotainment becoming much more consumer-centric, and I should really say much more application-centric,” Courville said. That’s a direction at odds with QNX’s lockeddown coding.

Equally clear, though, was the profusion of electronic systems in the ever-growing merger of car and computer and the need to keep them operating securely and in harmony, Courville said.

QNX responded with products such as Hypervisor, which puts firewalls between operating systems running on the same hardware to prevent any problem from spreading.

A key selling point, BlackBerry believes, is its long-standing reputation for reliability that led then-Michigan-based Delphi Automotive to seek out QNX software for the U.S. supplier’s nascent infotainment systems in the 1990s. Delphi liked the Canadian company’s record in such demanding environments as nuclear power and medical imaging, said Courville, who joined QNX in the early 1980s.

Today, QNX points to its attainment of the ISO manufacturing certifications that carmakers value and to a history of delivering products on time.

“We’ve never delayed a start-of-production date, which is a statistic that doesn’t get a lot of airtime, but it’s one we’re extremely proud of,” Courville said.

DAVID VS. GOOGLE-IATHS

BlackBerry has technology and automaker alliances around the world, from semiconductor specialist Qualcomm in California and parts maker Hyundai Mobis in South Korea, to Chinese Internet giant Baidu, which is developing an autonomous car. The company is working with 23 of the top 25 electric-vehicle manufacturers, Courville said, and has a deal with Amazon Web Services to offer a portal that links cars with the Internet cloud.

Yet in the global picture, BlackBerry remains a $7.4-billion David battling Google and other trillion-dollar Goliaths. Apple Inc. is readying software for a car it might launch as early as 2024. And Microsoft and top-ranked global supplier Robert Bosch have teamed to develop their own platform for over-the-air updates.

Market watchers predict only moderate sales growth for BlackBerry through 2023.

Brian Rhodes, IHS Markit’s manager for connected cars and vehicle experience, said BlackBerry is positioning itself as a key supplier to electric and autonomous cars.

Investments there will take time to pay off, “but being a strategic partner in that space certainly isn’t bad news.”

Tech analyst Rob Enderle thinks QNX software will remain a top choice for automakers in need of a strong, secure platform for car operations — and one they maintain control over — even as they let Google move into infotainment with a consumer-friendly platform that might not be especially secure.

Fears about liability will only grow as technology becomes more complex, said Enderle, a consultant based in Bend, Ore.

“What would happen if the control system of the car was taken over and you had multiple deaths?” he said. “I expect that QNX will, at least for the foreseeable future, be favoured [to prevent that] because we’re talking about a very risk-adverse market for the platform.”

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