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RIM CEO Thorsten Heins: 'we have this one shot with BlackBerry 10'

RIM CEO Thorsten Heins: 'we have this one shot with BlackBerry 10'


RIM tries to stay in the smartphone conversation

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Thorsten Heins interview
Thorsten Heins interview

RIM CEO Thorsten Heins has spent the past week on a media blitz, speaking to multiple outlets about his plans for the BlackBerry 10 launch on January 30th. RIM will be missing the important holiday shopping season with that launch date, so it's no surprise to see Heins making the rounds. The good news for RIM is that Heins is a relatively open and candid CEO — especially compared to his predecessors — and not afraid to drop a hint or two about the company's future plans.

We sat down with Heins to discuss the current state of BB10 and RIM's plans for the launch, and we managed to gather a few of the aforementioned hints about ambitious plans for "mobile computing." RIM wants to do more than just survive in the smartphone space. Although the company is focused on a smartphone launch that Heins characterized as "a decisive point in the future of the company," if all goes well the CEO doesn't want to stop there.

First, though, RIM needs to be as successful as it possibly can be with BlackBerry 10. Heins said that "we have this one shot [...] and we want to be right." Nailing the launch will be all the more difficult since it's coming in Q1 of next year, though Heins contends that there will be fewer smartphones launched in that quarter and therefore less "noise" in the marketplace.

"I don't go against competition, I go for customers. I go for business."

Another key factor will be having a large number of compatible apps at launch. RIM has an ambitious goal of a total of 100,000 apps. "We have a pretty good line of sight to get there," Heins says, and while that number would be no mean feat for a brand new platform, quality matters just as much as quantity. Heins believes that "regional" apps will be an important differentiating factor, arguing that international markets often demand apps that you or I have never heard of. Heins promises that there will be big-name apps and "good quality" mixed in. We've heard these promises from new smartphone platforms before, so as with BB10 itself, we'll need to see if RIM can execute.

Beyond apps, RIM will need to build a multimedia ecosystem to complement its business services. The company is holding those cards closer to its chest, with "partnerships in place that we will unveil on January 30th." Heins said that there will be "attractive" and "exciting new services" in store for the launch, and it makes sense that the company would opt to set up a "partnership" for its media library instead of trying to build one itself.

RIM will need to build a multimedia ecosystem to complement its business services

We're not expecting RIM to seriously compete with Apple, Google, and Microsoft in the content space, especially after hearing Heins repeatedly refer to multimedia features as table stakes for smartphones. Heins talked about the importance of being "on par in the consumer elements," but the focus is on winning back consumers who primarily care about productivity: "That's what we're aiming at and that's where we compete."

Speaking of competition, Heins demurred when it came to direct comparisons between Windows Phone 8 and BlackBerry 10. Instead of discussing whether Microsoft was going to keep BB10 from succeeding, Heins suggested that RIM's focus on a specific target market — which he calls the "hyper-connected, multitasking, [...] need to get things done" group — wouldn't overlap with Microsoft.

"You need to find your bullseye segment."

If that sounds like a bit of a dodge, well, it probably is. Heins is right to call the smartphone market "saturated" in the US, so finding and subsequently convincing its theoretical target demographic within that market will be a serious challenge. As with so many things in the smartphone space, it will depend on marketing and carrier support. "You need to segment, you need to find your bullseye segment," Heins told us, but the question is whether there will still be room on the target by the time RIM finally looses its BlackBerry 10 arrow.

While the launch of BlackBerry 10 is obviously the main focus for Heins, what's interesting is that he refuses to set the entire company's horizon there. We spoke a bit about the idea of "mobile computing," and from our conversation it's obvious that Heins is hoping to set his sights higher than just regaining a sliver of the smartphone market. "We're looking at this platform to take us into the next decade," Heins said. He then continued:

The thing is, I truly believe in mobile computing. I really believe that enterprises will change drastically in the next 2-3 years. I predict that over time laptops really will disappear. [...] My view a smartphone and or a tablet is going to be good enough for 50/60% of all mobile workers of all employees in a corporate enterprise. That's also what we're shooting at with our product with the BB10 platform and with the partnerships that we're building.

That kind of optimism about what computers will become is already starting to look a reality and Heins intends to be in this space — the "mobile computing" space. As with smartphones, Heins wouldn't commit to the idea that he's planning on taking on Microsoft's Windows platform directly. Even so, it's hard not to come to that conclusion when Heins says that "We will be a major player, [...] a leader in mobile computing."

One thing RIM apparently isn't planning on is just releasing another tablet into the market — at least not the way it did with the PlayBook. Heins was blunt in discussing the market right now. "The profit pool in tablets is rather small so you have to have a different look at it," Heins said, "the hardware business alone, is not a good business these days we all know that." Rather an just dropping a tablet into the market to see how it fares, Heins plans on creating value-add services that will ensure that the next product is "targeted."

Don't expect RIM to market BlackBerry 10 as a full desktop replacement anytime soon. The smartphone launch comes first, and then Heins expects it to be anywhere from two to ten "years before we see this emerging as a strong business. It's in a business exploration / business development mode if you want to put it that way."

"We will be a major player, [...] a leader in mobile computing."

Apparently, development is already in progress, with "several innovation projects" happening within the company in this area. If RIM can have a successful BlackBerry 10 launch, we might see it once again try to expand into other markets — Heins called out both cars and healthcare as intriguing places to start.

It all depends on the launch and on selling BlackBerry phones, especially in the US. The company is out of practice on both fronts and the competition is fiercer than ever. RIM may be shooting for the starts, but it has to prove it can get off the ground first.

Joshua Cherkes contributed to this report.