Alex Wong, Getty Images
Blackberry's days as a handset leader are in the past, but its future remains bright — including in software. The Canadian company is working with Ford in a move that would open its door to to self-driving tech.

BlackBerry, Ford Extend Partnership to Develop Car Software

Nov. 1, 2016
Ford has been using software built by BlackBerry’s QNX unit for its Sync3 in-car infotainment system, but has previously bought it through Panasonic. This deal cuts out the middleman and will reportedly let BlackBerry work on more software products with Ford.

BlackBerry Ltd. said it will work directly with Ford Motor Co. to develop automotive software, a move BlackBerry says will help it move into self-driving technology as the company looks beyond the smartphone market.

Ford has been using software built by BlackBerry’s QNX unit for its Sync3 in-car infotainment system, but previously bought it through Panasonic Corp., QNX general manager John Wall said. The deal cuts out the middleman and will let BlackBerry work on more software products with Ford, Wall said.

QNX is almost exclusively used for in-car infotainment systems, but the company has been talking up the potential of self-driving car software, an area Ford itself has been investing in heavily. The Canadian company has worked with startups to develop technology that brakes a car automatically when it spots something in its path. 

“QNX is a natural fit,” Wall said.

BlackBerry has held up QNX as a key driver of future growth as the company pivots away from phone hardware, and said the fact that it’s used in more than 60 million cars worldwide gives it the expertise to continue playing a major role in automotive software. Still, QNX is primarily used for infotainment systems while autonomous driving is a key area of focus for tech giants like Apple Inc., Uber Technologies Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google. Apple has hired away about two dozen of QNX’s employees, according to people familiar with the matter.

Ford has ambitious autonomous driving plans of its own that include selling 100,000 robot taxis by 2021. CEO Mark Fields has said the Dearborn, Michigan-based automaker will begin selling self-driving cars to consumers by the middle of the next decade.

Raj Nair, Ford’s product development chief, declined an interview request. Ford also wouldn’t say if the new deal with BlackBerry includes working together on autonomous features.

The partnership could open up the possibility of BlackBerry working directly with other auto manufacturers, Wall said. QNX is used by more than 40 auto companies, he said. “We have other opportunities.”

By Gerrit De Vynck and Keith Naughton, with assistance from Mark Gurman.

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