BlackBerry: The Endgame

That’s what Jean-Louis Gassée is calling it, although it’s certainly been long in coming:

It wasn’t until 2010 that RIM acquired QNX, a “Unix-ish” operating system that was first shipped in 1982 by Quantum Software Systems, founded by two Waterloo University students. Why did Lazaridis’ company take three years to act on the sharp, accurate recognition of its software problem? Three years were lost in attempts to tweak the old software engine, and in fights between Keyboard Forever! traditionalists and would-be adopters of a touch interface.

Adapting BlackBerry’s applications to QNX was more complicated than just fitting a new software engine into RIM’s product line. To start with, QNX didn’t have the thick layer of frameworks developers depend on to write their applications. These frameworks, which make up most of the 700 megabytes Lazaridis saw in the iPhone’s software engine, had to be rebuilt on top of a system that was well-respected in the real-time automotive, medical, and entertainment segment, but that was ill-suited for “normal” use.

To complicate things, the company had to struggle with its legacy, with existing applications and services. Which ones do we update for the new OS? which ones need to be rewritten from scratch? …and which ones do we drop entirely?

In reality, RIM was much more than three years behind iOS (and, later, Android). Depending on whom we listen to, the 2007 iPhone didn’t just didn’t stand on a modern (if incomplete) OS, it stood on 3 to 5 years of development, of trial and error.

BlackBerry had lost the software battle before it could even be fought.

The reason BlackBerry fell so far behind is that they failed back in 2003-04 — when iPhone development began in earnest — to imagine what could be done with the faster processors and bigger screens they had to know were coming. They seemed to think that a great email client and a crappy web browser were all anybody would want on their phones. By the time the iPhone came out, it may have already been too late. Worse, the company then spent years battling over which direction to take — keyboards or touchscreens, QNX or BlackBerry 100. In fact, BlackBerry still hasn’t figured out which direction to go — but the rest of us know exactly which way.

Counterclockwise, down the drain.