Research in Motion co-CEOs Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis had a lot of explaining to do following a dreadful first quarter and even worse second quarter outlook.
The good news for RIM is that it actually has a timeline for its latest BlackBerry OS 7 devices---late August. Yes, that means new BlackBerries won't save the second quarter and will be no-shows for back-to-school sales, but there's some light at the end of RIM's product void.
We were already well down a development path for the next-generation BlackBerry handset when we realized that in the US the features and performance arms race demanded that we upgrade the chipset and port BlackBerry to a higher performance platform. This was an engineering change that affected hardware and software time lines and pushed out entry into carrier certification labs. There are always uncertainties in product development. However, we did not expect the extra challenges this presented to carrier lab entry with the new platform. We are now in 31 certification programs with 23 carriers in the US and around the world, and we should start seeing technical acceptances beginning this summer with shipments beginning near the end of the quarter. The end result of this platform change was worth it, and we now have a platform that is the same across all of our high-end BlackBerry 7 products. And I believe it is the highest-quality BlackBerry we have ever entered into carrier labs. Because these products are almost all the same platform, once the first product is certified with one carrier, we can leverage this to accelerate certification of the others. This now enables the largest global launch of BlackBerry products in our history and allows us to roll out a rapid succession of launches over the next several months. I would have liked nothing more than to get these BlackBerry 7 handsets out sooner; and, believe me, we did everything we could to make that happen. But when customers experience the quality, consistency and upgraded user experience we have achieved in these new products, you will understand why it was worth the wait.
Lazaridis went on to say that he was confident about the new BlackBerry devices and the platform they were built on. The big issues: These new devices will have a short shelf life because RIM executives maintained that QNX superphones are on time for early 2012. QNX is the OS that powers the PlayBook.
The good news for RIM is that it will have a barrage of devices on deck. The bad news is that these new devices may crowd out each other.
The cadence goes like this:
- BlackBerry OS 7 devices in late August/September;
- 4G PlayBooks land in the Fall;
- QNX devices in early 2012.
Those products could have been spaced out a bit better, but RIM doesn't have the luxury of predictable timing. Meanwhile, the RIM product barrage could be positive in a vacuum. However, these new BlackBerry devices will face Apple's iPhone 5 and a slew of 4G Android devices. Lazaridis continued:
Many of you asked why we didn't move to QNX on BlackBerry handsets immediately. There are a number of reasons why this wasn't a feasible alternative. First of all, a hard cutover between platforms at this time would have meant abandoning our strong and loyal BlackBerry developer community. It also would have been near impossible to deliver a multicore QNX smartphone this year, given the dual core baseband processors are only just becoming available. It would also have been unrealistic to try to build a whole new tablet platform and to port BlackBerry to that platform at the same time. To take that path would have left RIM with a product void for most of 2012, which was unacceptable, and so we took the approach that we did.
Lazaridis was later asked whether it made sense to bring QNX devices just a few months after the BlackBerry 7.0 wave. He said that the BlackBerry 7.0 devices will be messaging devices that will be lower costs than high-end QNX tools.