What RIM's TAT Acquisition Means for BlackBerry—and You

RIM's recent acquisition of mobile UI expert TAT could be just what the doctor ordered for the BlackBerry OS. Al Sacco explains.

Early Thursday morning, BlackBerry-maker Research In Motion (RIM) announced via its official "Inside BlackBerry" blog the acquisition of mobile-software user-interface (UI) specialist The Astonishing Tribe (TAT). Details of the deal aren't yet available, but it's sure to have far-reaching implications for the BlackBerry platform in the future and for both BlackBerry smartphone and tablet users. Here's why.

RIM and TAT Logos
RIM and TAT Logos

To say that RIM's BlackBerry OS is starting to get a little long-in-the-tooth would be an understatement—despite the fact that the Canadian company just unveiled a brand new OS less than one year ago, BlackBerry 6. The new OS was a significant step in the right direction for RIM, but as the BlackBerry-maker stressed on numerous occasions, BlackBerry 6 is meant to be both "fresh and familiar."

The problem: BlackBerry 6 has proven to be a little too familiar – and not quite fresh enough. (Read my review of the BlackBerry Torch 9800, the first device to run BlackBerry 6, for specifics.) BlackBerry 6 also feels particularly ho-hum when compared to mobile OS software like Apple's shiny iOS and Google's hugely popular Android.

RIM is aware of this common perception. In addition to BlackBerry 6, the company has been quietly working on a brand new mobile OS built on a foundation from QNX Software Systems, which RIM acquired in 2010, to address the issue before it's too late—RIM's already bleeding market share like a stuck pig.

This new mobile OS, based on QNX's Neutrino real-time OS (RTOS) and currently dubbed the BlackBerry Tablet OS, will run on RIM's upcoming BlackBerry PlayBook tablet, which is expected to become available in the United States in the first quarter of 2011. (Check out a video demo of the BlackBerry Tablet OS here and PlayBook tablet pricing rumors here.)

RIM has also said that this new OS, or at least some form of it, will eventually make its way to BlackBerry smartphones, though it's still unknown when exactly that may happen.

This is where TAT comes in: to presumably further make over the BlackBerry Tablet OS code and eventually tailor it to BlackBerry smartphones, with a particular focus on UI design. (One popular mobile blog calls TAT "the SWAT team of mobile UI," while another BlackBerry fan site says "to expect to see a kick a$$ UI" from TAT.)

From RIM CTO David Yach:

For those who don’t know, TAT is renowned for their innovative mobile user interface (UI) designs and has a long history of working with mobile and embedded technology. TAT focuses on delivering great user experiences, from a design, technology and usability perspective. Their design technology is used today in a variety of industries including the consumer electronics and automotive sectors. Examples of TAT’s UI designs and concepts can be viewed on their web site at www.tat.se."

So, RIM's not just sitting back and ignoring the largely negative feedback currently surrounding its OS and the BlackBerry platform in general. It has been acquiring companies left and right during the past year or so to address these current challenges—think: Torch Mobile, Cellmania, QNX and now TAT.

And this recent acquisition was likely made to directly address the look and feel of RIM's upcoming software, which, as noted above, is in need of serious attention. What remains to be seen is if RIM can keep up with rivals such as Apple and Google, while working on a variety of different code--BlackBerry 6, BlackBerry 7, BlackBerry Tablet OS, etc.--for a handful of different devices.

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