Blackberry’s future is the tech debate du jour, with pundits on either side promising either a BB10 renaissance or a slow-motion tailspin. While the jury was still out, we had a few moments to speak with RIM CEO Thorsten Heins about RIM’s way forward and where BB10 was going to put the company when it launches.
He was unsurprisingly forthright and more than accommodating even when we asked him the questions any BB fan would ask today: Why should I buy a new Blackberry device?
TC: In this interview we wanted to see what was in store for the consumer, what RIM is doing to maintain the energy that a lot of the BlackBerry users currently have, especially at work or in academia. What do you see as the best way forward for those folks?
Thorsten Heins: What we are doing right now is, if you look at the installed base, specifically in enterprise, corporate and consumers worldwide, there is still a lot of phones running BlackBerry 5, mainly in Asia-Pacific. So we are still working on a program to upgrade the installed base to BlackBerry 7, which from today’s view and perspective still is competitive, and I think an exciting platform.
So we are absolutely working on our consumer and enterprise base to get us to BlackBerry 7, which is a real upgraded experience compared to 5 and 6, and to a certain extent also 6. That’s the first thing we are doing.
Second is we are working on the BB10 platform to be launched in the first quarter next year. And this is not, as I said, based on a QWERTY device, which is a device type we dominate today. This will get us back into the full touch game, and this is where we will fight hard in the U.S. to regain market share and convince consumers that, well, BlackBerry is not just a great platform for productivity or for business people; it’s a great platform for consumers as well.
We will specifically talk to those consumers that are constantly on the move or need to stay ahead and introduce them to BB10. Given the ease of adoptions for this platform it will be a great gaming experience, a great media experience, and a great content experience.
TC: It seems like BlackBerry itself has always been very specific about the email side of things. Is your vision to bring the company into more direct competition with the iOS/Android situation, or is email still paramount?
Heins: The way I look at this is that email certainly is a core element of BlackBerry, but I would put a bigger frame around this. I think this is about being extremely socially connected.
In today’s world, email is not the only way to communicate anymore: it is Twittering, Facebook, BBMing, and other means of social communication networking.
So what it really is about, I think, is to put a different frame around it and say “We keep you extremely well-connected through your various communication channels and we are making it really easy to deal with and to manage and to respond to notifications.”
TC: In terms of BB10, are you at all concerned that the time involved in releasing this update is going to affect things negatively, and especially with 7-inch iPad rumors swirling?
Heins: First, those are rumors. But as for BB10 I think this is not just a product launch, this is a whole new platform launch with a really new BlackBerry experience. So from that perspective, am I to a certain extent disappointed that we have that delay in BlackBerry 10? Yes, I would say yes.
But on the other side, I just want this to be the best user experience, the best compelling quality that people see on a BlackBerry, and I will not sacrifice this. I just want this experience to be fantastic. And that’s what we are working towards.
So knowing what we are building our BlackBerry 10 on, the product, the capabilities, the empowerment it actually gives to the people that use it, I have no concerns about our success. We will be successful.
Also if you look at the channels that we are serving, basically through the carriers, they see not just the risk anymore, I think they see reality coming that there’s a duopoly of suppliers they can work with and that they can source from right now.
They have a huge installed base of BlackBerry customers out there, they want to protect that installed base. They want them to be successful too. We get a lot of endorsement from carriers and the carrier partners globally on BlackBerry 10. So I am confident that we will make a good appearance in the rest of the world, but I am also confident that we are actually in a position to fight back in the U.S. based on the BlackBerry 10 portfolio.
TC: I guess it seems like people need a pep talk. So what would you say to the folks who say, “RIM isn’t thinking about us specifically, us early adopters, us hardcore BB users, we haven’t put down our BlackBerry since the late 90s.” What will you say to them?
Heins: The pep talk is that we will continue to make the people that use a BlackBerry successful. That is really the DNA. It just allowed people to manage their life and have a very comfortable way of communicating. And with BlackBerry 10, we will take this to a whole new level.
It’s not just about you communicating with somebody else; it’s about actually communicating with the whole network around you. So the strength in this whole social network and the strength is also in other elements that are not particularly BlackBerry elements, like gaming, because the platform supports it. We will not develop our own games, but the platform we are building allows game developers to program and to deliver really fantastic-performing games.
I myself, I use PlayBook a lot to play racing games because I can look at PlayBook from a performance perspective and say, with the highest rendering requirement, with the highest load on the graphic unit, is it a good performance, is it a good experience? And it is.
TC: And how many BlackBerrys do you carry around with you?
Heins: I have a PlayBook I use for work. I have a PlayBook that I use privately. I am on a 9900 right now. And I am using a kind of an ultra device for L-series right now, for BB10.
TC: You don’t have a secret Google Galaxy Nexus hidden in there somewhere?
Heins: What I always do is try be connected with the industry and know what’s going on there. I always have competitive devices on my desk that I check out that I work with, just to really understand what’s going on. I think this is just a good way of understanding what the industry is and where it’s headed. So we constantly do this.