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 95.

    BB, iPhones, Android... How old are you? 15? These are only expensive toys that perform the same functions all of them, unless you believe that being able to touch a key instead of pushing a key will solve the real problems of humankind. Get serious, people!

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    I wish them well, I wouldn't want Google being the only one out there as soon as Apple users snap out of their fashion induced coma and find their eco system & hardware being the junk it is. Microsoft have a lot to learn about not charging for everything but are showing some promise, with good hardware. Lets hope BB & RIM can cling to life. Our lives are heading mobile and we need options.

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    BlackBerrys originally became fashionable wid de yoot when adopted by rappers who wanted to promote their business credentials, showing themselves as serious individuals.

    References on tracks and pictured in videos give valuable promotion to BBs.

    Trouble with being fashionable is that you can then become unfashionable, like i-Phones.

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    Looks like it's back to being business oriented which means back to a niche product.

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    I'd give this company 6 months.

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    @89 and android managed that even before apple did, after all android was the master at multi tasking and apple had to copy it in to their devices.

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    They're comparing Flow to what the first iPhone did. That's ludicrous! Apple introduced the abililty to flick between apps seamlessly over a year ago! BEFORE that you could track fingers up the screen to bring up a menu of open apps, so not having to go back to the home screen has been about even longer! BB comparing their "new" operating system to a 5-year old one beggers belief!

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    @ 68. Shaunie Babes

    Please dear spaghetti monster no! I'm not sure I could take that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    What I got from this:

    The BBOS 10 looks great.
    It looks a bit like Maemo/Meego (a good thing).
    RIM seem to have a good vision.
    People are shallow - I mean being embarrassed due to what phone you have?!

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    The tech market is always evolving. We cant get sentimental about a firm, if it goes it goes. The same will happen with Apple in the end as they no longer innovate, there OS is miles behind the times and there customers will eventually get annoyed with been ripped off for average tech at high prices. I love my Android kit but i can see windows becoming the dominant player in this market very soon.

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    I still see loads of BlackBerries around, but then they're put away and the owner pulls out another phone. In many cases the 'Berry is provided by the company and the other phone is the personal choice. BlackBerry 10 looks okay but Windows Phone is already there doing it AND doesn't need the 'Berry ecosystem. But I wish RIM well, it would be sad to see them fade and the market needs competition.

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    Blackberry dead? I don't think so. I use one, so do several friends, and we chat across BB messenger all the time. It's great. None of us are planning to get rid of our BB's at this time.

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    I wish RIM well as i do with Microsoft, Apple and Google. we need more competition! competition is only good for everyone.

    But they do have allot of catch up as do Microsoft to catch up with Android and iOS. I do hope they do catch up though and keep Google and Apple on their toes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    The technology's fighting back, but I shall persevere. Functionality is irrelevant - it's all to do with fashion. Flashing an old 'phone in the street/pub/train is almost as bad as wearing dodgy trainers. When someone designs a 'phone with permanently-on fog lights, it will make a fortune (for a while).

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    RIM don't understand what made them so popular. The physical keyboard is why I have a blackberry. But each handset after the Bold 9000 has been a downgrade.

    I have the latest Bold (the 9900) - it's a disaster. The battery life is woeful and they've put in a touchscreen that doesn't lock when you're on a call. So you put the phone to your ear and cut the caller off or put them on hold. Dumb.

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    Functionality is irrelevant - it's all to do with fashion. Flashing an old (

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    Thorsen is genuine and a great leader, he made time to fix it with RCJ and possibily RCJ doesn't really understand that RIM will soon rule the consumer, enterprise, and automotive markets all at the same time.

    Open vs. walled gardens, true gesture I/O, NFC on RIM which for Apple -not so much, plus QNX already in 64% of worlds autos many other innovations to come.

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    By the time BB10 is released will there be anyone BB users left? RIM's fall from the dominant smartphone just 5 years age has been spectacular.

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    80m loyal users?

    I loath my Blackberry, only have it because it is a corporate phone.

    Hateful OS
    Hateful keyboard
    On my 3rd device in 12 months due to failures

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    What is special about Blackberry? Nothing. Nothing at all. They used to have caché, but not for some time. If I get sent an email with attachments, a lot of the time I can't open them, especially if they are newer document extensions like .docx - this is from a device 18 months old, when .docx has been around for 5 years. Behind the times? Nokia are streets ahead, let alone Apple or Samsung.


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