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

    Comment number 75.

    i had a blackberry phone, the keyboard failed after 3 days of minor use. blackberry refused to replace it. bought a droid, still working after well past 3 days. filed suit against blackberry for my $350, won+legal fees. moral of the story: blackberry will fight you if you try to return their defective product.

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    Sorry, that last sentence doesn't make sense. With a user base that's growing how can it be left behind? Your continual dislike of RIMM shines through again. As you point out in the first paragraph of your article, you had your interview cut short with Lazaridis because you couldn't grasp the security issue in India. The Indians were objecting to encrypted being sent, nothing to do with RIMM.

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    Maybe I'm being paranoid but it seems to me a lot of Blackbery's problems started the moment it was noticed freedom fighters/Arab Springers/terrorists were using it to remain in contact while staying off the radar of the likes of the CIA/Mossad/MI6/Egyptian/Saudi Intelligence services etc.

    Maybe Blackberry should develop covert monitoring apps for them so they won't keep sabotaging their systems.

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    I have a few points to make having heard comments around lately:
    1. BB demise by "insert date in future" etc is both ludicrous and harms RIM. Any journalist that gets involved with this crap should be looking for a new job. (Not pointing any fingers at RC-J so far).
    2. I work for a UK company that ditched iphones for BB's 2 years ago and thank God for that. The iphone was a toy compared to the BB.

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    No mention of the BBX device that's coming out with a traditional Blackberry keyboard?

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    I have a PlayBook and really like it - there are bugs; the browser and other apps sometimes crash, but it regularly gets updates so I know that BB are iroming them out (it will get BB10 once it is released).

    Thus I really like the look of the new phones, and the fact they have removable batteries and micoSD slots is really great compared to competitors. I hope they do well with these handsets.

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    My Blackberry is coming to the end of its life and I'm not sure what to replace it with, nothing else really seems to measure up. I will now wait until the first quarter of next year and have a look at the BB10. If it's as stable and dependable as the current model it will be an outright winner and I'll be delighted to keep using Blackberry. One request to BB - please improve your sync software!

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    Play the Rory Cellan-Jones drinking game. Everytime he mentions the word "Apple" you have a single shot of alcohol (two the article isn't even about Apple).

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.


    My daughter is the same. She loves her BB and is on it all the time with her friends. Ask her about the iPhone and its 'no thanks, I don't want to carry a brick!'.

    BB does have a market and kids seem to love a real keyboard over touch screen. It will be interesting to see how the brand develops. It may end up being a teenage 'cool' brand?

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    Jack M wrote:

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

    If they continue doing what they do best by having a limited number of products and putting all their effort into perfecting and supporting those products then there is no reason for their success not to continue.

    Competitors still do not understand Apple and yet Apple's customers sure do.

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    New BB have a better OS than they deserve - QNX. IMHO better than Android or iOS.

    Apparently, it can run Android apps as well as native C++ apps.

    And provided C++ SDK looks every bit as good as Android's, except C++ runs faster than Java ;o)

    Now, lets see if RIM can make a good phone with this!

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    My daughter and all of her school friends absolutely love the BB and apparently think Apple products suck & are for geeks & neeks...(the start of the backlash against Apple?)

    Can't say I really disagree, though I prefer BB for work and Android for home mobey.

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    Fanboys, Apple don't dominate the market currently and are actually losing market share. More people around the world use Android than Apple and Samsung's market share is over double that of Apple's around the world. Apple have stopped innovating and are falling behind.

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    Semisatanic wrote:

    "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!"

    Obviously Apple's sales don't agree with you. Talk about being in denial.

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    The writing was on the wall for RIM the day Microsoft added Exchange Activesync to their exchange servers. RIM should have played the antitrust/anticompetative card. Now its too late.

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    Soon nearly everyone will have iPhones or Androids, they will become passe as the original people that were buying these devices wanted to stand out from the crowd, now they are the crowd. Chance for Blackberry (or Microsoft) to get themselves marketed as the cool 'alternative' device.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    After only recently buying a smartphone the clunky looking Blackberry never stood a chance at being considered, not sure what their target market is as lugging around a qwerty keyboard in your pocket is totally unnecessary, given all the Android/IOS smartphones support Bluetooth and have an email App to cap that my phone even has a mini HDMI socket. Wheres the USP?

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    People don't seem to realise that they've been building towards this for years, ever since they obtained the company that created QNX code (which makes the software far superior to anything else available). I'm personally very excited.

    they've had problems because they make sure their devices are secure before releasing them, so releases are always delayed.

    There WILL be keyboard versions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    I have a BB Torch that has both touch screen and a slide out keyboard. I like a keyboard but the device is like a brick, damages very easily and it's difficult to get protective covers for it. I'm also sick of reading about so many wonderful apps that are only available on iOS and Android but not BB. I'm switching in November and can't wait. Looking forward to trying Windows 8....

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    Please Spell BlackBerry correctly :) 2 capital B's


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