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Balsillie on open source, app store pricing and the next Storm

Written by Jo Best, Contributor on


Jim Balsillie, co-CEO of BlackBerry-maker RIM sat down with silicon.com's Jo Best at RIM's Wireless Enterprise Symposium in Orlando to talk about touchscreen devices, CIOs and the future of the BlackBerry.

You were quoted as saying the company is working on a successor to the Storm. What more can you tell us about the next Storm, the next touchscreen device?
Every product we have has evolutions and roadmaps - that's just a normal part of our lives. We don't give any specifics on our products before they're announced, so I can't give you any details. That was just talking the normal evolution of our business…

Every product RIM has has a roadmap - they all have roadmaps, they all have evolutions, they all have updates. To the extent that we have touch products, which we do, and all our products have roadmaps, yes there will be touch products in the roadmap.

We have lots of very exciting products coming out this year, all kinds - we'll have new products coming out fairly imminently. We release products every season, so you're going to keep seeing products - Qwerty, touch, candybar, the whole thing.

The BlackBerry is 10 years old. Looking ahead to the next 10 years, what will be the next must-have technology?
I think there' s a big revolution happening in the device services platform area as we speak. I think there'll be lots of creative form factors, I think you'll see innovations in existing form factors, I think you'll see new form factors, I think you'll derive great benefits from componentry, in displays, batteries, in cameras, in RF, processors, memory, finishing, everything, so that's going to create exciting new possibilities.

There's a tonne of innovation going on in peripherals - projection, image, display, capture - but the biggest one I think is going to be on all the platform services.

How has the recession affected what CIOs are asking you for?
These economic times have had a dramatic impact on the way we interact with businesses because it went very quickly to essentials - the first essential was 'show me how you can save me money'. It's things like fixed mobile convergence, least-cost routing, the BES 5.0 with over the air easier management, simplified administration - show me how you can save me money. It's really hit because [CIOs] are under pressure from the CFO and business pressures and IT has to move with the business realities.

The second thing is a real enhanced focus on security - boards of directors really started to take risk management much more seriously. I think we went through an era where everything was shooting along so fast, it was about opportunity seizing. Then what happened was variability kicked in and downsides kicked in, and people became very, very focused on 'are we risk managing properly in our businesses?'…

Then there's normal [discussion with CIOs about] let's about talk productivity, let's talk about services, let's talk about applications, let's talk about enablers and, sure, that continued but boy oh boy, the priorities shifted and the indulgences on 'hey I want this colour device and that colour device, I want 4G and 5G and network speeds for network speeds', that really shifted away from indulgence type discussions to real essentials and fundamentals.

What work are you doing around 4G at the moment?
We're in evaluation and varying forms of engagement with things - all the different wi-fi technologies, we assess wimax, LTE. RIM is very much a fast follower in network technologies. If you're making the infrastructure, you're at the front end but when you're in devices and services, you're a fast follower because there's got to be something there for you to use it.

It's a little bit chicken and egg, but in the chicken and egg game, the infrastructure goes first.

Have you considered taking the BlackBerry brand beyond phones, into dongles or netbooks for example?
We're big believers in peripheralisation like using Bluetooth. You can get books on the Blackberry - so do you just want a peripheralised terminal to give you a bigger viewer, maybe with a keyboard, maybe not, or do you replicate the whole path with another device?

That's a good strategic question on these things - we look at a lot of partnerships, we assess the markets and the facts could change but right now it's peripheralisation.

Symbian has made the leap to open source - would you follow?
There may be parts it makes sense to open source - BlackBerry has a rich and strong environment and it delivers on a set of promises. There may be some open source stuff that makes sense. Different parts of the app set makes sense to open source [but] it hasn't been a big pressure point [for RIM].

Given the economic times and the criticism levelled at App World over its $2.99 staring price, would you consider bringing it down?
I don't know. There's still lots of free apps. I don't know, I wasn't that involved - it's not an absolute.

But it was launched that way, there are payment structures there. We try to share and make it compelling to developers but also compelling to users so it may make sense to go to 99 cents.

With the BlackBerry having its own app store and operators like Orange having their own app store, are you not running into competition with them?
They've realised the imperative it's become, the necessity it's become especially with app stores being advertised by other platforms - you need to have an app store. The great thing is had we advocated an app store a year ago, it probably would have met with a lot of carrier resistance - now, no - it's considered fundamentally important for a platform company.

What more can we expect from App World over the next year aside from more users and more apps?
That's really good - more users, more apps, more countries, more languages, more carrier billing integration - that's a pretty big set of work to do. We've done a lot with APIs so developers can do richer access with multimedia aspects in terms of push…with all the other things we have going on, that's a lot of work. There's a lot of moving parts.

You've had a couple of outages this year…
We have? When?

You had an outage in America in April…
There might have been a very very brief one for a few business customers in the US but that was a very small community for a very short period of time… We do over three petabytes of data and the full internet is seven, that's remarkable.

Is it possible to have an outage free service?
Well, anything's possible.

How realistic is it then?
There's no question that we strive for perfect service and I think all the geographies we play, the scale and volume, it's incredibly reliable and incredibly high performance and customers and partners and carriers trust it will be up and stay up. I think we've demonstrated it's a highly reliable service.

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