Last week some of the biggest names in the technology sector gathered in Las Vegas to unveil the latest innovations that will soon be on the shelves in stores. The show, CES, is widely considered the premier electronics event of the year with automotive, electronics, and even smartphone manufacturers using the event to announce new products.
BlackBerry Ltd. (TSX:BB)(NASDAQ:BBRY) was among the companies at the show, and while the iconic company did highlight an upcoming handset, the new phone was not the main reason for BlackBerry attending CES.
The Mercury makes an introduction
Late last year, BlackBerry announced a deal with TCL Communications Inc. that allowed TCL to design and build BlackBerry-branded devices. Both the DTEK50 and DTEK60, which were released last year, were built by TCL but sport the BlackBerry name.
Last week at CES, BlackBerry showcased an upcoming device: the Mercury. While a formal announcement of the device and overview of the internals will need to wait until next month, the Mercury differs from the last few devices in that it includes a fully exposed physical keyboard and — if the rumours are to be confirmed — a fingerprint sensor embedded within the space bar.
The Mercury will be the last device built by BlackBerry directly; it’s expected to draw significant attention next month. While TCL did assist with the Mercury, the company stated that several TCL-built BlackBerry devices are set to be released over the course of the year.
Forget the handset. This is the real reason to look at BlackBerry
QNX is the operating system that BlackBerry’s legacy BB10 OS ran on. It is also the operating system of choice for infotainment systems and the automotive sector; QNX is already running in over 60 million vehicles worldwide.
BlackBerry announced the latest iteration of QNX at CES this year, which, per BlackBerry, “can run highly complex software, including neural networks and artificial intelligence algorithms.” This is significant for BlackBerry and the automotive industry for two reasons.
First, if you look at the existing advanced features in vehicles, they operate independently of one another. Blind-spot monitoring, rear-camera view, lane-departure warning, pedestrian detection, and any of the other high-tech innovations added to vehicles over the past few years all operate on their own and can’t talk to one another; under QNX, it is now possible for these features to operate together.
This opens a score of lucrative opportunities for BlackBerry. It represents the next big push in using technology within the automotive sector, as one system can now talk to (and use data from) another system.
The second point relates to what is largely seen as the next evolutionary step in the automotive industry — autonomous driving. With potentially all active-assist systems now using QNX, the ability to create an autonomous driving experience that feeds information from a variety systems could mean additional capabilities for a driverless experience.
Late last year, BlackBerry was one of three companies granted approval to begin operating on a pilot program in Ontario that allowed autonomous testing with a driver in the vehicle. The latest QNX update will only push BlackBerry further ahead of competitors in the emerging multi-billion-dollar market.
In my opinion, BlackBerry now represents a unique opportunity for investors. The company, which is no longer reliant on device sales, has expanded into several potentially lucrative opportunities that should produce results over the long term. BlackBerry is still a risky investment in the short term until the company completes its turnaround and returns to profitability.
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Fool contributor Demetris Afxentiou has no position in any stocks mentioned.