Research in Motion CEO Thorsten Heins' BlackBerry 10 plan revolves around being one platform and device to bridge your personal and work roles.
"It's not about labeling people as consumer or enterprise, but looking at them as individuals in various roles and being a great tool," said Heins in an interview.
In other words, the BlackBerry 10 platform aims to sandbox work and personal. It's unclear whether RIM can defend those features for long, but the message may arrive at the right time. Why? In recent months, I increasingly hear workers complain about the downside of bring your own device. For instance, a large enterprise won't pay for a smartphone for you, but insists on being able to wipe your device completely.
Add it up and RIM---should it position BlackBerry 10 as a convergence device between every role personal and professional---could capitalize on a bit of BYOD backlash. Double bonus for RIM if wireless carriers push this personal and professional role idea. After all, you could conceivably sell two data plans for one device.
Yes, it sounds complicated, but RIM may be on to something.
Here's a look at the other key takeaways from my Heins interview:
If Heins could go back in time and change anything about the company at any point, he would have hopped on the 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) bandwagon much earlier. The answer is a bit surprising given RIM's current struggles. RIM could have seen touchscreens coming, it could have pushed BlackBerry 10 out earlier and could have had email native on the PlayBook out of the gate. LTE?
On further reflection, I tend to agree with Heins' answer. The Android ecosystem hopped on Verizon's LTE train very early---even before the network was fully formed. As a result, those of us that care about network speed went Android. It's really that simple. If there were BlackBerry devices or Windows Phone smartphones available on LTE out of the gate, recent smartphone history may have been written differently.
The bottom line: Apple can hang back. The rest of the pack can't. Even today, LTE is dominated by Android devices. If RIM went LTE early, BlackBerry users who are getting weird looks in an iPhone-Android world could at least have said "but it's 4G."
"In hindsight, we underestimated the deployment of LTE in the U.S.," said Heins. Why? "We were very much focused on Asia Pacific, the Middle East and global markets. It was global growth vs. LTE. We needed to do both."
RIM's product cadence has to improve. Heins talked about the company's upcoming roadshow with developers and carriers in September. Six devices are planned going forward---touchscreen and QWERTY pairs targeted at high-end, mid-tier and entry-level markets. RIM is also looking to improve its product cadence, but Heins did note the company is looking at 12- to 15-month cycles. Overall, RIM is simplifying and that's good. RIM's biggest problem to date is that 12 month roadmaps turn into 18 month ones or longer.
Fusion multi-device management software has garnered interest, but other details are sparse. Heins said that Fusion has been downloaded thousands of times, but didn't have metrics on conversions or how many iOS or Android devices were being managed.
BlackBerry 10 licensing depends on the device rollout. Heins couldn't say much about RIM's strategic review other than it was continuing. He said the company is focused on getting "BlackBerry 10 out the door" and that he couldn't have "30,000 people focused on licensing it." Licensing is an option at some point, but RIM's primary goal is to make BlackBerry 10 relevant to users, added Heins.
Hardware innovation is tricky. I asked Heins whether hardware innovation was dead. After all, RIM's rivals on the hardware side all sell devices based on software. He said that hardware innovation has been limited by physical style and human requirements, but doesn't mean that it's game over. He pointed to antenna design and other hardware advances that aren't obvious but matter to the user.
PlayBook as laptop replacement in industries? When asked about PlayBook hardware and design, Heins noted that every RIM tablet in the field will get BlackBerry 10. Overall, tablets "need another purpose and value proposition," he said. Heins added that the BlackBerry 10 platform will be powerful enough to be a computing replacement in key verticals. "We need tablets that have vertical service purposes," said Heins.
What verticals would work best with BlackBerry 10? Heins said QNX, the precursor to BlackBerry 10, is dominant in transportation and auto for service management and traffic services. QNX is also prevalent in healthcare. If that vertical footprint extends to BlackBerry 10, "the challenge will be to figure out what to do as well as what not to do," said Heins.