Blackberry boss - don't underestimate us

 

RIM chief executive Thorsten Heins talks through the Blackberry 10 system

The last time I met a Blackberry boss it ended rather badly. Eighteen months ago Mike Lazaridis, then co-CEO of RIM, took exception to a question and terminated our encounter. So I was very grateful that Thorsten Heins, now in sole charge, agreed to meet me this week and give me so much of his time.

He took over in January, after Mr Lazaridis and his co-CEO Jim Balsillie stepped down, battered by the crisis at the Blackberry company which probably explained the tensions of our interview the previous spring.

With its share of the smartphone market heading south and investors agitated about the precipitous fall in the share price, Mr Heins faced an unenviable challenge. When I asked him how much progress he made, he took me through a list of management changes and restructuring initiatives.

But he knows his real challenge is to turn around perceptions of Blackberry.

Last week the New York Times ran a feature which could hardly have been more damaging, suggesting that Blackberry owners were now ashamed of their devices. In the city where every Wall Street banker and hotshot lawyer once flaunted this symbol of their need to be connected to their email 24/7, this was hurtful stuff.

When I brought up the article, Mr Heins insisted it was poorly researched and far from the truth: "80 million users that are loyal is a different testament."

But as if to highlight the huge problem that Blackberry has in the United States, he went on: "What I see in my markets outside the US is huge growth, huge commitment to Blackberry."

But there appears to be no growth and no commitment in the US - indeed, figures show that RIM's smartphone market share keeps on falling, down another 3% between May and August this year.

Blackberry is still a very respected brand across the developing world - but it is undeniable that it has lost its cachet in the US and Europe. Turning that around and pulling the company out of its death spiral all depends on a new operating system, Blackberry 10.

Thorsten Heins, CEO of Blackberry, demonstrates the new touchscreen devices Blackberry is about to go the touchscreen route

Mr Heins gave me a demo, telling me that this was a "whole new paradigm" in mobile operating systems. Unlike the pattern set by Apple's first iPhone, where a user has to continually go in and out of a menu of apps, Blackberry 10's trick is something called Flow. This enables you to move seamlessly between a whole range of apps, heading from an email to your calendar to a social network without returning to a home screen.

The key difference, though, is that RIM has finally surrendered fully to the touchscreen experience, having insisted for years that a physical keyboard was integral to its appeal. There will still be devices with keys to tap but Mr Heins indicated that the buttonless Blackberry was the future.

Thorsten Heins with one of his company's new devices Thorsten Heins with a new-look Blackberry

The CEO and his executive team have been travelling the globe spreading the gospel of Blackberry 10 to developers - who will provide the apps on which its appeal depends - and the mobile operators who will sell it to consumers. He said there had been plenty of support.

But here's the rub - the new system won't be available until the first quarter of next year, and that may be too late. With every passing week, more consumers choose Android or Apple phones, and even more crucially, more corporations switch away from Blackberry. The management consultants Booz Allen and US Customs are amongst the recent deserters. Winning them back will be a lot harder than losing them.

But Mr Heins remained resolutely cheery. "Quality matters," he insisted when I suggested RIM had already missed the boat. "We're not just building an update of Blackberry 7, we're building a whole new mobile computing platform. Don't underestimate the dynamic that this platform is going to create in the market." And he made this bold claim: "In the US we are going to regain our market share with Blackberry 10."

With Android and Apple now grabbing most of that market, the road back looks hard - and that is if you ignore the much better-funded Windows Phone platform. I know plenty of people who are anything but ashamed to own a Blackberry - as I left my office to interview Mr Heins, a colleague told me to tell him he couldn't live without his.

But a brand that has been left behind in a fast-changing world has only a short time to turn things around.

 
Rory Cellan-Jones Article written by Rory Cellan-Jones Rory Cellan-Jones Technology correspondent

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  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 35.

    I use a BB Bold 9780 for work, Galaxy S for own use & an iPad 3 for general reading/browsing, to be perfectly honest I don't think I'd switch to BB for personal use any time soon mainly due the shortage of apps, usability and the choice of devices. I hate the tiny BB keyboard, just not for my thick fingers, but I didn't have a choice then, hope my next company phone will have a decent touch screen

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 34.

    With the launch of this new piece of kit in conjunction with its new movie sponsor "The Flintstones" its likely to rock.

    With contracts being 18-24 months & new bricks coming out every three months, the situation just is becoming ridiculous @ between £350-£550 per handset.

    Now soon all sets will have to support 4G, so your old one (around 6 months old) is not worth a toss.

    Sound investments.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 33.

    Apple> BB :)

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 32.

    @24 Jack M
    Apple are a one hit wonder!
    You buy one Apple product and wonder how you got suckered into buying such a piece of junk.
    You most certainly don't a second one!

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 31.

    The key areas of strength of RIM has been their network that allowed low tarriff business use. However, iPhone have managed to change the focus of mobile phones to apps for many businesses, many of whom are actively developing their own apps.

    I'm not sure how easy that market will be to recover now Microsoft are coming into the picture along with Google and Apple.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 30.

    I think the interviews (including those with Mike Lazaridis and Steve Ballmer) are much worse than the articles themselves, but the journalism looks like the results of a google search.

    Rory also gives the impression that he thinks that disruptive technology is now impossible - that it's "too late" for e.g. windows tablets or a new smartphone paradigm. Giving that impression is bad journalism.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 29.

    18. HaveIGotThatWrong

    "Is there some sort of Fruit Church ?"

    The first rule of Fruit Church is you do not talk about Fruit Church.
    -The Grand High Banana.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 28.

    I am fascinated to see whether RIM can live up to their promises in relation to BB10 - it is obvious that a lot of work has gone into their relaunch.
    I felt embarrassed at the quality of the journalism in this interview. I believe in asking tough questions, but I think Rory oversteps into obnoxiousness every time. More importantly, I feel absolutely none the wiser about the product or the company.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 27.

    The areas that RIM has failed in are the areas that Torsten Heins has been responsible for since 2007 and now he is CEO! 

    Cannot anyone see that he is obviously a part of the problem. Certainly and obviously not a part of the solution. 

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 26.

    From a normal consumer point of view I think that the market is now locked down to Android and iOS. Everything else is destined to fail.

    From a business point of view there is a huge demand to be able replicate your company PC/laptop experience on your phone. Though it's questionable whether your really need a separate phone/network to achieve that rather than just a series of apps.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 25.

    that photo of him proffering the phone in a Travel Tavern should be the subject of a caption competition - the look on his face says it all, he even seems to be angling his body away from it

  • rate this
    -6

    Comment number 24.

    Don't see why, everyone knows Apple will dominate the market for years to come.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 23.

    BB are only hanging on because of the corporate market, but I, and most people I know who have a company-issued BB, only carry it because we have to - when we need to send an e-mail we use our own far more user-friendly devices.

    The companies have started to realise this & I can't see many corporate contracts being renewed over the next 2 years.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 22.

    Mr Heins may be doing his best, but the damage was done a long time back and he's piloting a ship that's presently sinking.

    Blackberry is no longer the only device capable of email, calendaring etc, but it's still the most secure, enterprise-class system out there. They need to embrace ActiveSync and that combined with the new OS MAY halt the decline.

    They have their work cut out though.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 21.

    I hope that Thorsten Heins and eveyone working at Blackberry can pull the company out of the death spiral that the previous co-CEOs put it into.

    I'd be lying if I said I was optimistic though.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 20.

    I think the market is domintated by 2 big players (Android and Apple) then un and coming windows and somewhere down there Blackberry. Lets face it apart from a Launcher they all do similar things with varying degress of customisation - loads for the android system and non for Apple lol

  • rate this
    +10

    Comment number 19.

    /Waits for Apple to sue as it has icons on the screen..

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 18.

    I thought people were religious about worshipping their Apples. But judging by the comments on here, it applies to Balckberrys as well.

    Is there some sort of Fruit Church ?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 17.

    Blackberries look like ancient technology.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 16.

    I won't be upgrading to a touchscreen BB. I bought mine for the proper keyboard, not for it's "coolness".

 

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