New RIM chief: BlackBerry must chase consumers

Research In Motion chief executive Thorsten Heins, the newly appointed replacement for Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie, has said former enterprise favourite BlackBerry must focus more on the consumer market

Thorsten Heins, the new chief executive of Research In Motion, has said the company will focus its BlackBerry efforts on consumers rather than its traditional enterprise buyers.

Thorsten Heins

New Research In Motion boss Thorsten Heins has said BlackBerry must focus more on the consumer market. Image credit: RIM

Heins, who took over from co-chief executives Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie on Sunday, wasted no time in reassuring investors on a conference call that he has a plan to improve the company's fortunes.

"We have a strong technology heritage and particularly in the enterprise," Heins said during the call on Monday. "We were very successful coming from our core enterprise business, but we need to be more consumer-oriented and market driven, as this is where a lot of our growth is. We need to engage more with the consumer base."

More than 75 million people use BlackBerry services every day and the BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) IM platform has more than 55 million users, he noted.

"We're well positioned with enterprises and CIOs, but we need to do better in the consumer space, particularly in the US. I want us to focus more on consumer and consumer marketing; that's a big change for us," Heins added. 

However, RIM acknowledged in December that it still had a high number of PlayBook tablets in its inventory, even after cutting prices in November. The transition from BlackBerry OS to a QNX-based mobile operating system has meant it has lagged behind rivals in getting out revamped phone models, too.

In the enterprise, the company's reputation as a business-friendly handset maker took a hit in 2011, when significant network outages affected the delivery of email worldwide. In addition, India, the United Arab Emirates and other countries threatened to ban its services if the company did not provide keys to decrypt private messages, emails and other data sent over local networks. In December, figures from iPass showed BlackBerry losing its top spot in the enterprise to Apple, as well as losing ground to Android.

Entry-level smartphones

As part of his plan for success, Heins said RIM will not branch out into lower-cost feature phones. Instead, it will make an attempt on the entry-level smartphone market.

"We play in the smartphone segment; we're not going to go into feature phones. However, there's still a lot of feature phone users out there — it varies by market — but around 50 to 60 percent, so there's a lot of potential there to get users from feature phones to smartphones," he said.

He added that RIM needs to concentrate less innovation on products that have already been defined, to focus instead on activities such as building prototypes.

During the call, Heins confirmed that the company will consider licensing its primary BlackBerry 10 platform to other hardware makers.

"I will entertain licensing discussions about BB10. If it makes sense for RIM to go down that path then we will consider it," he said. "It's not my primary focus for RIM."

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