The Internet of things and wearable devices were on center stage at last week's 2015 Consumer Electronics Show, with vendors of all sizes rolling out new products and road maps as they look to gain traction in the rapidly growing markets.
Trying to rise above the din was struggling mobile company BlackBerry, which unveiled a cloud-based platform for the Internet of things (IoT) that leverages its QNX software solutions and other assets—including its secure network resources and device lifecycle management software, according to company officials.
BlackBerry's global network currently manages about 35 petabytes of mobile data every month in the company's data centers around the world, and works with more than 300 mobile operators and 400 partner networks, they said. Making the move into the IoT is a natural step, according to the company.
"By combining the BlackBerry global network and device lifecycle management proficiency with the embedded software experience of QNX, we have built a modular, cloud-based platform that gives customers the chance to build IoT applications in a secure, efficient and scalable way," Matt Hoffman, vice president of strategy and marketing for BlackBerry Technology Solutions, said in a statement, adding that the company in the future will extend the BlackBerry IoT Platform to other of the company's technologies.
Also at CES, BlackBerry officials announced that its BBM messaging service will support Android Wear smartwatches, and that QNX embedded software will help power NantHealth's HBox, a smart portable medical device that can gather and send medical data between patients, doctors and hospitals.
It's clear why tech vendors are putting so much effort behind the Internet of things and wearable devices. Cisco Systems officials have said there are 25 billion connected devices worldwide today, and that number will grow to 50 billion by 2020. IDC analysts have predicted that IoT revenues could hit more than $3 trillion by the end of the decade. They also are forecasting that wearable device shipments will grow from more than 19 million in 2014 to 111.9 million in 2018.
For a company like BlackBerry, which at one point was among the world's top handset makers before the onset of smartphones from the likes of Apple and Samsung, the IoT and wearables offer an opportunity to extend its technology into new growth areas.
BlackBerry CEO John Chen and other officials signaled the company's intention in May 2014, when they unveiled "Project Ion," an IoT initiative that includes a QNX-powered public application platform, an ecosystem of carriers, software developers and other companies, and a partnership to accelerate the development of connected devices.
"Billions of connections generating trillions of transactions and exabytes of data daily will require platforms that can operate securely on a global scale," Chen said in a statement at the time Project Ion was announced. "No other company is in a better position than BlackBerry to provide the technological building blocks, applications and services needed to enhance productivity, improve real-time decision-making and deliver on the vision of the Internet of things."
At the foundation of the customizable BlackBerry IoT Platform is the company's messaging system, which helps deliver such services as security, immediate data indexing and storage, integrated analytics and validation of messages and data objects, officials said.
Initially, BlackBerry is targeting the asset-tracking and connected-car spaces, the latter of which played a prominent role at CES. The IoT platform later will grow to include the smart energy and health care fields, officials said.
BlackBerry's move into wearables via the support for Android Wear smartwatches is another way for the company to extend the reach of its technologies, according to Herman Li, senior vice president of BBM engineering and product management at BlackBerry. BlackBerry officials cited research from Canalys analysts that indicate that annual shipments of smartwatches will grow to more than 28 million units this year and to more than 60 million by 2017.
Through the integration of the BBM application into Android-based smartwatches, users will be able to get their BBM messages on their devices without having to touch their smartphones.
"The integration of BBM to support wearable technology is just one way we’re expanding the capabilities of our portfolio and delivering exciting options for customers to easily access BlackBerry’s cross-platform technologies," Li said in a statement.