A lavish launch party for the new Porsche Design store on Toronto's Mink Mile this week featured the predictable tailored suits, models strutting down a makeshift runway, people wearing enormous sunglasses indoors and very high heels.
But the blackberries at the bottom of the guests' champagne flutes hinted at the evening's rather unlikely Bavarian luminary, who, at 6-foot-6, stood at least a head taller than anyone else – even in a room full of stilettos.
Thorsten Heins, Research In Motion Ltd.’s new CEO, was grinning, shaking hands and posing with fans in front of a 2.4-metre-tall copy of a BlackBerry outside the Bloor Street store. The party must have been a reprieve from the travails of his day job, where he is attempting – against steep odds – to turn around the struggling, Waterloo, Ont.-based smartphone maker.
Mr. Heins was at the launch to unveil a high-end collaboration between RIM and Porsche: a BlackBerry made of forged steel and handcrafted Italian leather that costs nearly $2,000. The price tag, combined with a distinct Porsche-designed interface and keyboard, make the BlackBerry P'9981 more of a statement than a product that will materially affect RIM's dwindling revenues.
“We wanted to show what BlackBerry is capable of,” Mr. Heins said, standing among the throng that had spilled out onto Bloor Street. “It talks to our strengths, it talks to our audience.”
BlackBerry sales have shrunk dramatically as Apple Inc.'s iPhone and Google Inc.'s Android software have altered the smartphone sector. RIM has suffered through several disastrous fiscal quarters, weak product launches and profit warnings, and is about to undergo a dramatic restructuring likely to feature thousands of layoffs across its worldwide operations.
But as RIM seeks to retain its dominant market share in a slew of emerging markets such as Nigeria, Brazil and Indonesia, as well as in the Middle East, the posh new phone helps show that BlackBerry “is truly an aspirational brand,” Mr. Heins stressed, adding that it shows RIM's devices are “about being out there and being successful.”
Though a big hit at Harrods in London, and apparently prized by celebrities such as Kim Kardashian and Jay Z, the new phone is unlikely to gain wide traction outside of exclusive circles.
“It just creates a lot of halo effect,” said Mr. Heins, who, ahead of RIM's earnings later this month, was unable to discuss much company business. “We wanted to go high-end, not luxury – not an $8,000 phone,” he said, describing the new device as “still affordable.”