I just had a chance to sit down with Research In Motion's recently appointed CEO Thorsten Heins to discuss the current and future states of the company he's now tasked with rebuilding. While there wasn't much new ground to cover given all of the recent news surrounding RIM, he did have some interesting things to say about his business, BlackBerry 10, the competitive landscape, and what happens next for the struggling phonemaker.
"We want to support [current customers] very strongly."
For starters, Heins seems to believe that RIM can retain the customers it has (and even gain some new ones) with the latest crop of BlackBerry 7 devices. "I think what we did in the past a little bit, we were trying to sharpen our saw and figure out 'who's the person who loves to use a BlackBerry?' Internally we call them BlackBerry People," he told me, a message we heard back at BlackBerry World as well. Heins seems to think that identifying and serving that particular customer is key, saying that "BlackBerry 7 really still hits the nail on the head — but we told the public that this is who we're going for with BlackBerry 10. We want to support those people very strongly."
Like most RIM execs, Heins is short on details, but he says that the company will deliver a "reinvented, even better BlackBerry experience" on the new phones due in 2013.
The CEO did admit that the company has made mistakes, particularly in combatting the competition, though he took pains to distance QWERTY phones from full touchscreen devices, drawing what seems to be a somewhat imaginary line in the sand. "I think we own the QWERTY segment in enterprise and prosumers... but in my opinion we are nowhere near any level of success in the full touch market," he said, adding "That's what BlackBerry 10 will change." We've already heard the company say that both types of devices will launch around the same time in the first quarter of next year.
We also discussed licensing, and to my surprise, Thorsten was quite clear that the possibility of licensing BlackBerry 10 to another handset-maker (such as HTC) was not out of the question. "That's certainly part of the framework that we're looking into," he responded when I asked specifically about HTC, adding, "but I want BlackBerry 10 to be the mobile computing platform of choice, for various segments, not just smartphones or tablets."
At one point, he actually seemed to hint at another device the company was working on beyond a smartphone or tablet. When discussing what his hopes were for BlackBerry 10 as a "computing platform," he told me that, "A smartphone is an expression of it, so is a tablet... but so is something else we're working on. We're open to many ideas."
What is the "something else" that RIM is working on?
On comparing his business to Nokia, which has suffered a similar decline in its primary platform over the last several years, Heins opinion was largely unfiltered. "I think we're in a different position, we have roughly 80 million users today — Nokia doesn't have that, they're not in the service play, they have no value on top of the handsets."
Finally, when I asked the CEO about why RIM hasn't taken the path of Nokia or other manufacturers who had been struggling on the software side, Heins was crystal clear that Android was not an option for the company.
"If I look at the potential on Android, there's not much out there. You and I know that Samsung's playing a very strong hardware game... on hardware innovation, and they do it well, but look at the other players. Android is starting to fragment and fork, so I don't know. My view is that we're not just in the handset business. We're in the mobile services, communication, and connection business."
Heins was crystal clear that Android was not an option for the company
Heins says he doesn't want to be in a business where he doesn't have full control over his product. "I don't think we're well advised to move onto another open software system and be at the directive of that provider, where they can say 'you can't do this, you're restricted to do that, I restrict what you can do with hardware.' Where's the potential for differentiation there? Where's the growth potential for us? I don't think moving to another platform would pay dividends to RIM or its shareholders."
His mindset, at least outwardly, seems to suggest that the company will definitely go it alone for the short term, and like others we've spoken to at the company, he's bullish. "I don't think there's any other opportunity for us other than getting BlackBerry 10 out there, convincing our customers, and convincing the market."