Apple's CarPlay has to ride on top of BlackBerry's QNX platform for in-auto entertainment systems. Ford was reportedly pondering a swap from Microsoft to QNX to for its Sync platform. And it's highly likely that the front end of Google's Android in-vehicle efforts are also going to have a QNX play.
So when BlackBerry CEO John Chen calls QNX one of the crown jewels of the company he's not kidding. Here's what Chen said in December on BlackBerry's last earnings call:
QNX is probably one of the crown jewels. Every time I come here, our partners call me and customers call me that really want to work with us on QNX...The plan is to invest in this and grow. The plan is to go by other vertical because we are doing very well in automotive vertical, we are going to continue to focus on that, but we're going to start looking in adjacent verticals to expand the business. In addition to that, we're going to build a platform that are cloud based, that is going to be machine-to-machine based architecture.
The big question is what is QNX worth? BlackBerry can't base its entire turnaround on QNX, but rest a assured the car platform will play a key role. Strategically, QNX---along with the enterprise unit---may be the most valuable things at BlackBerry.
Apple and BlackBerry have had a long-standing partnership on QNX as a way to connect iOS to in-car systems.
In many respects, QNX serves as a middleware layer for in-car infotainment. News surfaced last week that Apple's CarPlay, which launched with iOS 7.1 on Monday, was based on QNX.
Jefferies analyst Peter Misek references QNX in a throwaway line in a research report about Apple:
CarPlay is an in-car infotainment system that allows iPhone users to make calls, access maps, message, and listen to music. Apple has listed 15 auto manufacturer partners including Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz, and Volvo. The CarPlay software is powered on BlackBerry's QNX platform. CarPlay will be available in select cars in 2014.
When you look at CarPlay you'd never know QNX is there. Auto manufacturers and now smartphone players will apparently control the interface and user experience. That fact may mean QNX's flexibility is even more important.
BlackBerry can't comment on its involvement with Apple's CarPlay, but the QNX platform does specialize in connectivity to mobile devices. QNX, acquired by BlackBerry (then Research in Motion) in 2010, provides operating systems, software development tools and engineering services for everything from autos to appliances to medical devices and control systems. QNX has more than 40 automakers---Acura, Audi, BMW, Chrysler, Ford, GM, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar, Mercedes, Land Rover Range Rover, Porsche, Toyota, Volkswagen---in the fold.
A look at the QNX stack reveals how hard it would be to totally cut BlackBerry's subsidiary out of the car entertainment ecosystem.
Rest assured QNX will stick around and even thrive. Why? QNX is the Switzerland that the auto industry needs to preserve margins, deliver value added services, customize the experience and keep smartphone players from dominating.
If that Switzerland role can be cultivated in other verticals such as appliances (where Android wants to be everywhere) and medical devices, QNX may indeed by BlackBerry's crown jewel.