RIM's Lazaridis on why Qwerty's still working

RIM's co-CEO tells Silicon.com why he believes smartphones are the future, why Qwerty is so exciting, and why the Bold has nothing to do with the iPhone.
Written by Natasha Lomas, Contributor
BlackBerry maker RIM has been very busy this week hosting the Wireless Enterprise Symposium in Orlando, Fla. One of the announcements causing the biggest stir was the BlackBerry Bold--touted by some as the device to rival the iPhone.

At the conference, co-CEO Mike Lazaridis caught up with Silicon.com reporter Natasha Lomas to tell us why he believes smartphones are the future, why Qwerty is so exciting, and why the Bold has nothing to do with the iPhone.

The rise of the smartphone...
I've always believed that the feature phone market was going to transition to smartphones. And smartphones really were the future.

Credit: Research
In Motion
Mike Lazaridis, RIM
president and co-CEO

If you go back in history, just about every major consumer electronics technology in history started in the enterprise. So everything from printers, fax machines, telephones, typewriters--you name it, it all started in the enterprise. And then as it became easier to manage, as it came down in price, as it became more ergonomic, what happened was all these businesspeople, who're also consumers--when they saw it available in the store, for a price that they can have it in their home, they start putting fax machines in their home, they start putting PCs in their home, they start putting tape recorders in their home. All of these technologies have their birthplace in business and BlackBerry's following that same path. BlackBerry's really a product that has successfully commercialized the concept of the smartphone for business.

On touchscreen interfaces...
Everyone's trying to get into this game now. So they're coming up with different innovations, we're seeing different types of articulated devices, you're seeing touchscreens, you're seeing all kinds of stuff--the fact is people have grown up from the old dial-tone phone keypad. That's the key.

BlackBerry Bold

I worked on the very first touchscreens. Let's go back in time now--Gold Computing, Newton, Envoy, Marco--the very first touchscreens on the Sharp organizers, I had one of those. The very first Palm. I met Jeff Hawkins and (Donna) Dubinsky back when Palm was a block of wood, so I go right back to the beginning. How's that? I've used all the touchscreens, I've known about touchscreens and I've watched NEC and Palm use full touchscreens since the mid-90s and what I watched was the whole industry eventually have to license our keyboard technology.

We have to be realistic about the history of this technology. We have to remember that this is not new--this has been done, this has been tried before. And there are other ways to provide a large screen and a Qwerty keyboard without compromising them by putting one on top of the other.

The iPhone effect...
I think that BlackBerry was the first and best integrated and most secure smartphone solution in the world a decade ago. And it continues to be today. But I think what happened was the amount of marketing and the attention (Apple) generated in the market--the customers are now coming to the store and saying I didn't know you could do all that with a phone. And when they get there they realize there's a selection--there's not just one device. And so what it's actually done is increased our sales.

The BlackBerry Bold versus the iPhone...
This is three years in the making. So I'm sorry but this wasn't a response to another device. Either that or we have a time machine somewhere, or some kind of magic crystal ball or something. This was actually designed three years ago and the actual physical design of this product--I have the original models from 2006.

Future challenges...
We're already working on our next generation platform. One of the things that we're really focused on is battery life. And one of the big challenges in 3G has been the battery life of these products when they're really using data. And so a lot of innovation has gone into our products--we're the first to invent several technologies that have at least halved the amount of battery consumption of our products on an always-on connection.

The most exciting mobile trend is...
Full Qwerty keyboards. I'm sorry, it really is. I'm not making this up. People are running out of their two-year contracts and they're coming into the stores and they want to be able to do Facebook and they want to be able to do instant messaging and they want to be able to do e-mail and they ask for those features thinking that they're going to get another flip phone and they're walking out with a (BlackBerry) Curve or a Pearl because they're the best devices for doing those kinds of activities. And so what is the defining factor? The keyboard.

Natasha Lomas of Silicon.com reported from Orlando, Fla.

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