DAY ELEVEN: February 2
Around 4 p.m., Heins walks into the lower level of Toronto’s historic Harbour Sixty Steakhouse to meet with a group of Bay Street analysts. In this era of austerity, there are to be no $58 rib-eyes and certainly no $125 double porterhouses—drinks only. There is harsh questioning, and one senior RIM executive exchanges terse words with a respected Big Five bank analyst. Still, BlackBerrys outnumber iPhones in this room by a ratio of 15 to 2, according to Byron Capital Markets’ analyst Tom Astle. The BlackBerry brand, while certainly bruised, retains some cachet with this crowd. And, for some of the audience, Heins’s humble but assertive tone strikes the right note. These analysts may not think RIM has much chance of turning itself around, but they seem to respect the new CEO’s approach, a quiet confidence tempered by a willingness to be more frank about the company’s failings. “His style was much lower-key than Balsillie’s,” says Astle, who points out that Heins demonstrated strong resolve. “I think his personality has brought more transparency to investors, and likely even internally in RIM.” Let’s face it: Heins was never going to get anything resembling a honeymoon in North America, where RIM’s downfall is generally depicted as assured, but, judging from the crowd at Harbour Sixty, the mood seems like it has the potential to shift—at least a bit.
DAY SIXTEEN: February 7
Heins is in Amsterdam today, addressing a crowd of European app developers at the behest of Alec Saunders, RIM’s evangelist-in-chief, who’s tasked with attracting third-party software developers to the BlackBerry platform. Saunders, who joined RIM as a VP during the summer of the 2011 shakeup, has a tough slog ahead of him. Apple’s iOS operating system has more than 500,000 apps, including hits like Instagram and Draw Something; the Android app market is not far behind. By comparison, BlackBerry App World (70,000 apps) has been shunned by some developers, who see bigger profits on other platforms. One such developer, YouMail, has gone so far as to issue a press release announcing it will cease development for BlackBerry, a sure way to garner attention from click-addicted news sites feeding on BlackBerry failures. (In April, Saunders will use his personal blog to call out the CEO of YouMail, telling him that from “one entrepreneur to another—I think it’s time to hang up the spurs, cowboy.”)
One long-standing complaint is that it’s too time-consuming to tweak software to run on each of RIM’s many devices, a costly annoyance that turned to strategic indifference as BlackBerry sales waned over the past year. Heins’s job in Amsterdam is to trumpet the impending arrival of RIM’s BlackBerry 10 platform, which will run across all new phones and tablets.
“It’s always great to be back home,” he opens. “I consider myself a European kid.” He shrugs his shoulders and raises his hands to cue applause. The casual vibe is quickly subsumed by managerial-sounding bravado as Heins goes on to list the countries in Europe where BlackBerry is the No. 1 smartphone. He starts with the Netherlands, which garners polite applause from the crowd, and continues: “The United Kingdom. Spain. Saudi Arabia. United Arab Emirates. Kuwait. And South Africa.” Besides the U.K., where BlackBerry market share is slipping, these are not global economic powerhouses. RIM’s list of corporate bragging points is dwindling—as its rivals’ lists are lengthening. But right now, it’s worth Heins’s time to play up BlackBerry’s global success, over and over again; Saunders needs some good news. Without it, he won’t be able to persuade app developers to bother. In that case, Saunders and Heins might as well hang up their own spurs.
DAY THIRTY: February 21
RIM releases a software update for its PlayBook tablet. This sounds kind of dry, but the original device—which has great hardware—was hugely criticized for its lack of e-mail, calendar and contact-list functions that BlackBerry phone owners already enjoy. To call this update crucial would be an understatement. RIM has been deeply discounting the PlayBook at retailers since November—reducing the price from as much as $700 to as low as $200—and the general consensus has been that the product is lacking.