New Research In Motion chief executive Thorsten Heins has had a busy week.
He's been unveiling the successor to BlackBerry OS at the BlackBerry World conference, as well as the prototype devices that the mobile maker is giving developers to create apps for the new operating system.
RIM has developed the QNX-powered BlackBerry 10 to replace Java-based BlackBerry OS. At the BlackBerry World conference in Orlando on 1-3 May, the Canadian company also released new software development kits and said it has distributed 2,000 Dev Alpha handsets, which run an early of version of BlackBerry 10.
ZDNet UK talked to Heins, who took over from co-chief executives Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie in January, about the latest developments and asked him how the company that some think practically invented the smartphone can create a device to appeal to businesses and consumers.
You have talked about the handset and the operating system at BlackBerry World but not much about BlackBerry Enterprise Server middleware, security, device policy and the enterprise back-end. Does that all still matter?
It absolutely matters. Right now the focus on the company, the external focus on the company, is mostly driven by our handset and devices business. But there is much more to RIM than just devices. We will be focusing even more on enterprise. That's where BlackBerrys live best. That's where they flourish.
If you look at our organisation, we had the enterprise pieces. But they were actually allowed to fragment across different functions, so it was not entirely well connected in the way it probably should have been. So we pulled it all together and put this under Robin [Bienfait, the CIO]. There's more to come but absolutely that matters. There're new innovations like Mobile Fusion and mobile device management in the cloud. There's a lot of stuff going on.
But frankly what I will do in the enterprise unit now I have the management in place is to push the throttle pedal a bit more. I just want to be number one in enterprise. It's as simple as that. And that's where BlackBerry 10 becomes important again because I need BlackBerry 10 as a platform in the mobile enterprise.
There was some confusion earlier this year about whether RIM would carry on selling consumer devices. Given that so many devices will be chosen by consumers and used at work, isn't the consumer market important?
I was talking about the consumer value of services and that got misrepresented as RIM would leave the consumer business. That is absolutely not true — and that's not what I said.
I looked specifically at consumer value-added services. There were many things that were nice to do but actually not really core to the business. I want to provide a fantastic mobile computing engine and platform. Then I want to augment that with attractive consumer application services from strong partnerships with those companies that are best at building those apps and services, rather than us doing everything ourselves. RIM is not a gaming company, let's face it. RIM is not a maps company.
There are companies out there doing mapping really much better than we are — why should I focus on this? It's important to have this but we can do it with partnerships.
We will be extremely strong in enterprise. We'll be extremely focused on the product as part of that segment but we will be as strong in consumer. That's a big part of our business and a very attractive part of our business. But as consumers we have huge variety of interests. We need to make sure we attract app developers and partners to work with us so we have a complete offering.
Why did you need a new operating system? Did you consider using Android or licensing another OS?
One and a half years ago we realised that if we really want to go into mobile computing beyond smartphones and tablets, the platform we had wouldn't be able to take us there, for certain architectural and technology reasons.
I just want to be number one in enterprise. It's as simple as that.
Let's be really clear. In BlackBerry 7 the OS has reached its level of perfection. For more than 15 years this OS has created growth for RIM. Great kudos, great respect for the development team. But again, 15 years in software is quite some time and we needed something that really could take us forward to the mobile computing world.
What to do? Building an OS from the bottom up not an easy task. It takes years. You just don't do this in a 10-month development project. Looking at open platforms out there and watching what is happening to some of the companies with these OSes right now didn't give us a good feeling of confidence that we should join that group and start giving up our potential for differentiating ourselves.
What we see today in some of these open OS camps is a proof of our assumption. The decision was we have got to do it. We have no choice. We have got to do this ourselves, as tough as it is.
What are your priorities with BlackBerry 10?
The design objective of BlackBerry is to help people succeed. That doesn't mean succeed in business, it means succeeding in what you want to do. This is really important to understand. When I say people that want to be successful, that is not in any way exclusive you may want to succeed in sports, in your studies, at work, in running a family — there's so many things you want to succeed in.
What do you need to succeed? It all starts by centring on how do I manage all these different connections and information channels that I'm actually creating by accepting relationships but I'm also the subject. How do we manage this, make this a really attractive flow and make it also fun to work with?
We're nearing completion on BlackBerry 10. I know the schedule and I will stick to our guns right now that quality matters. I want this BlackBerry 10 experience to be perfect. I want to wow people. We gave a little glimpse of what's in BlackBerry 10, but there's much more to come than what you saw.
The most important thing is to make this flow really work across multiple apps that run real time in the background. They don't get stopped. They don't get halted like others do, so whenever you flow across your living space on that device, you have everything at your fingertips in real time. Nothing gets pulled the moment you pause something — it's just right there. That's why we needed this QNX multi-threaded OS. That's why magically all these components came together and made sense to be used as the next mobile computing platform.
What shape is BlackBerry 10 in at this point?
I'm really excited about this. I've seen it working. The team weeks ago came to show me...
...the first software blocks. They weren't integrated, they were single software blocks. They were all so excited about showing me the calendar and how the calendar was integrated and some games and messaging, and I was looking at it and I was actually watching something else.
It was the first raw developer device and you know what intrigued me most and really gave me the confidence that we did the right thing? There was no stuttering on the high-resolution screen. There was no hour-glassing. There was no freeze — it just went through all the demos without any hiccup. That gave me a great deal of confidence that this platform is rock solid, that we have something in our hands we can really build the future on.
What happens between now and when we launch — there's a lot of hard work still ahead of us. What you see is a prototype. There's still integration work going on. When you build devices, you need to have a lot of test time. We call this hip time, where people in RIM actually carry devices, beta testers and that's where you're finally able to see how well you approach the final date.
Then all the reports flow in — we have an automatic reporting system — about the quality on the device. The software guys need to take all these quality topics that come up and burn them down — that's what we call it. We are approaching that moment, and then you go in with the carriers.
Will BlackBerry 7 go away when BlackBerry 10 launches? What about PlayBook?
We just successfully launched a very successful BB7 entry-level device. We have the Jazz family out there. We're still working on boarding people from feature phone to smartphones. That is probably a trend for the next two years and we want to be really strong in this to build our installed base.
We want to use the best DNA of BlackBerry as an enterprise productivity success tool and then if that works, take it to consumer.
Tablet will be focused on what is the real value of a tablet. It's hard to make it successful as a pure hardware play. We want to use the best DNA of BlackBerry as an enterprise productivity success tool and then if that works, take it to consumer. So we will continue that franchise but we will position it slightly differently.
We will bring a 4G PlayBook to the market later this year. We will continue this [development] because I see it as an on-ramp not into the tablet business but as an on-ramp into mobile computing and we need to follow that path to get into mobile computing in the enterprise and with consumers.
You've shown a touchscreen device, but what about the BlackBerry keyboard?
We focused a lot on the typing experience on a touch BlackBerry because we are known for typing. We want the typing experience on BlackBerry to be the best in the world, be it a physical keypad, the touchscreen or be it a physical keyboard.
We have the best physical keypad on the planet and we don't want to give this up. There are still people who love the hardware reaction of the physical keyboard. We know where our strengths are. We won't lose the focus on physical keyboards. That would be just plain wrong for us.
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