In the hours since RIM's fiscal Q4 2012 earnings call with newly-minted CEO Thorsten Heins yesterday, there's been a lot of talk about the company's "focus on the enterprise" — and we've seen a number of headlines flatly saying that RIM is abandoning the consumer market.
This simply isn't the case.
What Heins did say on a number of occasions throughout the call is that enterprise is RIM's core strength — and this is certainly true. In fact, it's always been true. Even as distracted as RIM has become in trying to create iPhone competitors since the launch of the original Storm, RIM's core market has always been enterprise, and Heins drove home the point that he'd like to see the company reclaim its leadership there. "RIM was late to the bring-your-own-device movement and we saw significant slowing down in our enterprise subscriber growth rate as a result. I am committed with my team to reclaiming lost market share in this space," he said.
"We plan to build on our strengths to go after targeted consumer segments..."
So, what does that mean for RIM's consumer business — the millions of people around the world who bought their Curve or Bold from a carrier and are simply using it as their personal device? "We plan to build on our strengths to go after targeted consumer segments and we will seek strong partnerships to deliver those consumer features and content that are not central to the BlackBerry value proposition — for example, media consumption applications." Heins plainly admits that building out a great music player or movie rental platform simply isn't in RIM's wheelhouse, and he'll look to "partners" for help with that.
In fact, Heins mentions the prospect of partnerships many times throughout the call in many contexts. He's made it clear that all options are on the table — to use his words, they'll "leave no stone unturned" — as they figure out how to turn the RIM ship around. And it's not just specific consumer-focused apps — licensing BlackBerry 10 wholesale is an option — but regardless, Heins isn't abandoning consumers. "We will have to have those consumer table stakes on a BlackBerry 10, there is no doubt about it."
"I want to absolutely participate in this market. The question is, what is the right business model for RIM to participate there? Is it our own hardware? Do we have to do everything ourselves? Do we license BlackBerry 10? You know, that is a business model we could think about. Do we partner? Do we ODM? That is currently under investigation... but yes, I want to be in the mass market, I want to participate."
"I want to be in the mass market, I want to participate."
He specifically cites RIM's 4G lag as a sore point for consumers, but says that help is on the way: "The lack of an LTE product and a high-end consumer offering in this market is hurting our performance. BlackBerry 10 product and platform will address this later this year."
Heins still has many decisions to make over the coming weeks and months about how to position the company — it's a point he reiterated countless times on the call — but one thing was made clear: RIM, and BlackBerry 10, will be in the consumer market; the only open question is how it'll stay there in the long run. BlackBerry's own hardware, a rebrand, a licensee, or a combination of all of the above, he's looking at all of the options. Regardless, there's no reason to believe that you won't be able to walk into a carrier store later this year and pick up one of the company's first BlackBerry 10 devices.
Whether you'd actually want to do that, though, is another matter altogether.
Update: RIM has essentially confirmed our report, with senior vice president Patrick Spence saying that any claim the company is leaving the consumer market is "wholly misleading." Here's the full statement:
The claim that RIM has said it will withdraw from the consumer market is wholly misleading. Whilst we announced plans to re-focus our efforts on our core strengths, and on our enterprise customer base, we were very explicit that we will continue to build on our strengths to go after targeted consumer segments. We listed BBM, as well as the security and manageability of our platform, amongst our strengths.