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Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM ) appears to have painted itself into a tough corner.
As the current generation of BlackBerry devices isn't impressing anyone, the Canadian handset designer is pinning its hopes on the QNX operating system, which it acquired from Harman International Industries (NYSE: HAR ) this year.
It's a great software platform with a long and solid history, and it already powers everything from network switches to car engine controllers. Surely, the PlayBook tablet will show QNX off and instantly introduce a worthy rival to Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL ) iPad hegemony. Then, the same strengths that make QNX a fine tablet platform -- security, reliability, performance, and compliance with POSIX standards -- should transfer with swift authority to smartphones and become the next-generation BlackBerry foundation.
Or at least, that was the plan.
Kaufman Bros. analyst Shawn Wu reports that it's not exactly working out that way. His sources say that the Playbook's battery life falls far short of what the iPad or various Android tablets can muster. The tablet may be delayed as a result and may be redesigned to fit a heftier, bulkier battery.
QNX was never meant to run off a portable battery, as most of its traditional strongholds are connected to power mains or at least a nice, big car battery. All that power and reliability apparently comes at a cost: bad battery drain. What's good for the embedded goose may not work for the mobile gander.
So what can RIM do about its technical direction now? Maybe QNX can be adjusted to fit better in a mobile world, but that would take a lot of time and elbow grease and might mean trade-offs versus its existing strengths.
A more gutsy move would be to dump the QNX idea and sell that asset to the highest bidder to recoup some of the $200 million outlay. Then RIM would either pour some sugar on its BlackBerry development efforts or adopt another proven technology -- the MeeGo Linux platform that's backed by Nokia (NYSE: NOK ) and Intel (Nasdaq: INTC ) springs to mind, as does Android.
But that would require a lot of pride-swallowing in Toronto. The first option sounds more likely, no matter how difficult or costly it may be. Like I said, RIM finds itself in a tough spot these days, brought on by the company's own errors of judgment.
Can RIM find a way out of this market trap -- and is it too late to make the PlayBook a respectable and timely competitor? Discuss in the comments below.