QNX's software powers the latest BlackBerrys - and it may soon be coming to a car near you.
A stunning black Bentley Continental GTC sat gleaming under bright lights at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this year. The $191,000 luxury vehicle quickly became a must-see attraction, not for its curvaceous sheet metal but for its futuristic dashboard inside, featuring a massive 17-inch touchscreen, 3-D maps, even videoconferencing.
Developed by Ottawa-based software firm QNX, the concept car is a glimpse into the future of driving as vehicles adopt technology popular in smartphones and tablets. QNX has built a reputation for making embedded operating systems that simply do not crash. Its software is found in devices ranging from casino slot machines to nuclear power plants. BlackBerry purchased the company for $200 million in June 2010 and set its engineers to developing its Blackberry 10 operating system, released in January. (Software made up just 3% of the company’s $18.5 billion in total revenue in fiscal 2012.)
While the fate of the company’s phone division is still uncertain, its autos business appears to be booming. QNX shipped more than 9 million so-called infotainment units in 2011, about 60% of the total market, according to Derek Kuhn, vice president of sales and marketing. Audi, Toyota, BMW, Porsche, Honda — QNX has been in them all. Analysts at IHS estimate that the global market for such devices is $6.7 billion annually. By 2020 some 80% of new vehicles are expected to have built-in infotainment units, up from just 40% currently.
Plenty of other tech giants are going after the market, however. After years of trying, Microsoft’s partnership with Ford — a multimedia system dubbed Sync — appears to be paying off. Other major mobile operating systems, like Google’s Android, may not be far behind, predicts Gartner analyst Thilo Koslowski.
QNX says it is working on a system similar to the concept car’s, due out for the 2017 model year. Kuhn promises it will wow.
This story is from the April 08, 2013 issue of Fortune.