I touched upon this topic in a thread I started in the forum, but I thought I’d elaborate on it here as a posted article. BerryReview, a few while back, highlighted this piece in Business Insider rounding up its “Best Tech Acquisitions of 2010”.
Guess which one was ranked at the top?
Research In Motion bought QNX, a software division of Harman International, in April. The QNX team is already making a huge impact creating software for RIM’s PlayBook tablet, which looks promising. QNX is also platform of the future for the BlackBerry phone lineup.
It beat out some other significant purchases by Microsoft and Google. QNX’s Real-Time Operating Systems have been at the core of a huge number of embedded systems spanning a myriad of industry sectors. RIM is now betting on QNX to be the foundation for its devices for the next decade.
RIM also acquired The Astonishing Tribe (TAT) last month presumably to help bolster the visual user interface elements in upcoming Blackberries and the Playbook platform. Take a quick glance at some of their concept designs and we’re already getting a sense that RIM is looking to innovate the UI to levels we haven’t seen in a Blackberry device.
Both acquisitions to me speak to RIM’s recognition in needing to increase its appeal with the growing market of consumers that are looking at high-end, but not necessarily corporate smart-phones. It’s easy to see what draws them to RIM’s main competitors—Apple and the plethora of high-end Android based devices sport large high resolution screens, smooth UI effects, along with sleek and slender form factors.
The acquisition of QNX has already shown promise for RIM’s future. Showcased at this year’s CES, I don’t recall reading a single report that came away disappointed with how the OS looked and performed. The demonstrated power in multi-tasking and masterful use of the touch sensitive bezel was seen as impressive by most. And I don’t even think we’ve really seen the full potential of this platform yet. In addition, I also doubt much of what we’ve seen so far has incorporated anything from TAT yet, so the potential for great functionality and a visually powerful UI is exciting. Indeed, according to reports, TAT is currently working to design even more creative ways of using the touch sensitive bezel.
So, RIM has seemingly gone and actively pursued external assets (through acquisitions) for both the core operating systems that will drive its next generation of Blackberries and the creative design elements of the user interface.
But, it begs the question: Is there some other asset RIM should be pursuing?
What about an Industrial Design firm?
RIM should look at whether or not there is a cutting-edge company out there that can help them reinvigorate the exterior design of future Blackberry devices. An acquisition of this type would not be revolutionary in the industry. Some may recall CISCO purchasing a company in order to more fully prepare itself to enter the consumer electronics market. Now, I’m sure RIM has an in-house team that’s always been working on hardware design for a long time, but the company is also struggling to shake the so-called “Refresh” label in its 2011 Line-up. Even with some significant improvements in technical specifications, there is still a perception out there that all of RIM’s new phones just, well, look the same as they always have.
While all of us are fond of and may even prefer the unassuming and simplistic look—the design of the new Dakota has some welcome subtle updates—the 2011 Blackberries nevertheless could still stand to add some innovative flare. Don’t get me wrong, the Dakota (or its CDMA variant Montana) will be the best looking Blackberry ever; the thinnest RIM has ever designed if the reports are true, and with a luxurious fully machined stainless steel frame, this phone will be hot! But in my observations, it still fails to impress those that need to be impressed, namely the smartphone buyers that are flocking to Apple and Android phones.
I have had friends that majored in Industrial Design during college, but not knowing much about the field myself, I did a quick web search. One company that turned up was RKS Design, whose clients include Apple, HP, and even Gibson guitars (I should however disclose I’m a Fender guy myself J).
They had an interesting concept for a phone shown here:
Of course this particular concept doesn’t really match the usual monochrome and low-key looks Blackberries are renowned for. Nor am I advocating for something like the odd “Empathy” concept (shown at the top of this article) that BerryReview wrote about a few months back. But, I think bringing in some outside talent could breathe some new life into the existing Blackberry models. There are many similar design firms out there doing some interesting things.
Digitalhomeboy.ca’s concept for a Dakota-like phone also comes to mind, and has been mentioned by BerryReview before:
With a dedicated design team working alongside QNX and TAT, along with RIM engineers to retain the most beloved aspects of Blackberries (reliability, security, build quality and great battery life), they could go toe-to-toe with their growing competitors in the field.
What are your thoughts?