After posting disastrous financial results in late June, Research In Motion Ltd. CEO Thorsten Heins is trying to change the tone of the conversation about the embattled BlackBerry maker.
Even as the company begins a restructuring that involves 5,000 layoffs, Mr. Heins and members of his executive team reached out to the media and stressed that even if things look bad for BlackBerry now, RIM's management remains optimistic, despite a delay of the firm's BlackBerry 10 smartphones until early next year.
As part of what seems like a new openness at the company, Mr. Heins agreed to take questions submitted by readers of The Globe and Mail. We received roughly 200 submissions and chose 10, which we offered to Mr. Heins earlier this week. Here are his answers. (Questions were edited for clarity and length.)
1) I am a dedicated BlackBerry user (and PlayBook too), but I'm worried that between now and the BlackBerry 10 release next year, Android and Apple products will advance yet another generation. As mobile technology rockets forward at its fastest pace ever, will BlackBerry 10 be competitive when it is finally released?
– Stephen, 42, small-business owner in Toronto
Thorsten Heins: BlackBerry 10 is more than just a new smartphone. It's an entirely new way of thinking about BlackBerry – new software powering new devices and new services. While our competitors update their offerings, BlackBerry 10 will be the only mobile platform built from the ground up with the latest technologies in mind – whether it's mobile video chat or near-field communications that enable you to use your handset like a wallet. You're correct, Stephen, mobile technology is a fast-paced industry and a large portion of the world relies on our innovation to stay connected. That's why we chose the difficult path of developing BlackBerry 10: to provide a robust, reliable new way to interact with the world around you. Clearly, a project of this magnitude is not easy, but we believe the potential of BlackBerry 10 is worth the effort.
2) Why is BlackBerry 10 being delayed? What are the three or four reasons for the delay in consumer terms?
– Pam, 54, marketing consultant in Chicago
Thorsten Heins: There is really only one reason, Pam. We need more time to integrate all the features we have built for BlackBerry 10. While the core technology of BlackBerry 10 is ready to go – outside developers are already working on an array of applications – I decided that the way some features worked together and the related software integration needed more attention and refinement. The goal of BlackBerry 10 is to bring some of the best technologies in the world together in a seamless environment. Simply put, I could still see some of the seams. When you're dealing with millions of lines of computer code that will be subjected to daily use by users around the world, fine-tuning can take time – in this case, more than we anticipated. We decided to delay the launch of BlackBerry 10 to give us ample time to integrate software, test, and polish the final product.
3) How do you plan on winning back corporate customers who have already adopted bring-your-own device policies and have no desire to run a BlackBerry Enterprise Server alongside their other mobile
– Isaac, 32, IT manager in Vancouver
Thorsten Heins: We understand that the corporate environment is changing as more and more organizations allow employees to use their own devices on the job. We are constantly talking to our customers and what they've told us is that they want their mobile systems to be easy to manage, secure and reliable. For that reason, we introduced BlackBerry Mobile Fusion, RIM's mobile device management solution, which enables IT administrators to control and keep track of tablets and smartphones on BlackBerry, iOS or Android platforms, while ensuring confidential and proprietary data is protected.
4) One of the biggest challenges for BlackBerry is having a good number of high quality applications. Have you considered dropping the BlackBerry operating system and moving to either Android or Windows Phone 8? This would allow you to focus on building great devices and taking advantage of already-established app markets.
– David, 30, software developer in Calgary
Thorsten Heins: We have considered a range of options that included adopting someone else's operating system, but ultimately we rejected that idea. We determined that the best way to build value for our stakeholders and do right by our users is to unite devices and software with BlackBerry 10 – building each from the ground up so they work together without a hitch. With the global market growing as fast as it is, we believe there is room and demand for an alternative to generic software. We have more than 90,000 applications up for sale on BlackBerry App World today and more than 3 billion applications have been downloaded from our store. We even have a way to move Android apps to BlackBerry PlayBook and BlackBerry 10, so we would actually be limiting choices by adopting another operating system.
5) I am proud to support Canadian businesses like RIM and I have been a BlackBerry customer for years. My needs and interests have been met in the past, but emerging products from Apple and Android-phones are quickly making BlackBerrys obsolete. I am currently in the market for a new phone... Why should I wait for the new device line and operating system in the New Year?
– Jeff, 23, research assistant/student in London, Ont.
Thorsten Heins: Thank you for supporting BlackBerry, Jeff. No one wanted BlackBerry 10 in customers' hands this year more than I did. By giving our teams more time with BlackBerry 10, we could deliver a mobile experience unlike anything we've ever done. I believe the reason you should wait is because, you'll see that BlackBerry 10 is not just a fresh coat of paint on an old operating system. It will be the only completely new mobile platform on the market. I'd be remiss, though, if I didn't point out that our current devices powered by BlackBerry 7 pack quite a punch.
6) I recently bought a BlackBerry Torch 9810 on a three-year term. With the coming of BlackBerry 10, how much support will BlackBerry 7 users receive in the future?
– Ajay in Mississauga
Thorsten Heins: Don't worry, Ajay. We'll continue to support BlackBerry 7 devices into the future. We have a great lineup of smartphones built on this software, and we remain committed to supporting them.
7) RIM can expect that even a modestly successful BlackBerry 10 product will deliver results from the enterprise and business crowd, but a plan to make RIM products familiar among young consumers is a must for long term viability in this industry. Given that Apple already had a toe in the game with iTunes and the iPod to build a foundation for the iPhone, how does Research In Motion plan to build brand familiarity with younger people and students?
– Anthony, 25, law student in Halifax
Thorsten Heins: One of the misconceptions about BlackBerry is that it's your parents' smartphone. BlackBerry has a loyal fan base of young people around the world. For example, in South Africa, BlackBerry was recently voted coolest brand. Our incredibly popular BlackBerry Messenger, or BBM, an app that makes chatting with your BlackBerry contacts quick and fun, helps make BlackBerry the number one device for mobile social media in the world. Every day, BlackBerry engages with more than 30 million social media followers worldwide through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, our Inside BlackBerry Blogs and regional social networks. A significant number of those fans and followers are young people. Obviously, we have work to do in North America, and we know that. As the father of two young people, I know how quickly the definition of cool can change. We're confident BlackBerry 10 will appeal to people of all ages who value getting things done on the go.
8) I was a very happy user of a BlackBerry Bold when it was first released. I had this device for almost two years after which time I switched to an iPhone because of simple little bugs in the BlackBerry Bold software, such as the inability to click on the button of a web page, the need to remove and replace the battery because the phone locked up, the unreliable Wi-Fi and a bunch of other little annoyances. These little details actually matter to the end user. Will RIM under the new direction of Mr. Heins focus on just getting products out in the market, one after the other while ignoring the little details that can be annoying to customers, or will they actually make an effort to deal with the quality of their products up front and also correct problems after a product is released as they are identified?
– Marc, 45, engineer in Calgary
Thorsten Heins: This is one of my pet peeves, and I'm sorry your device did not meet your expectations. Based on your description, it does not meet mine either. I believe it's the little things that distinguish excellent products from merely good ones. It is one of the reasons I wanted to give our development teams some extra time on BlackBerry 10. It's also why I have been trimming our product lines to ensure that we have only the best devices and the most intuitive software out there with our name on it.
We do have strong support resources available if you have issues with your BlackBerry. We want to know about bugs and address any problems immediately. Here are the links to our support services:
Inside BlackBerry Help Blog: http://helpblog.blackberry.com/
BlackBerry support forums: http://supportforums.blackberry.com/t5/General-Support-Forums/ct-p/GeneralSupportForums
9) With constant delays on RIM products (PlayBook, OS7, OS7.1), what confidence can you give us that RIM will actually now (after yet another delay) deliver BlackBerry 10 devices on time in the first quarter of 2013?
– Joe, 51, small-business owner in Alabama
Thorsten Heins: I am absolutely committed to this timeline, Joe. I made the decision to give our teams more time on BlackBerry 10 because I believe we must deliver an experience that is nothing short of exceptional to our users. The successful launch of BlackBerry 10 and the delivery of high-quality BlackBerry 10 devices remains the company's top priority.
10) Why not put out new handsets with the old BlackBerry 7 and allow them to be upgraded with the new operating system when it comes out? That way people will be able to stick with RIM in the fall and get the new version when it comes out. Otherwise, I don't see people in Canada buying Blackberrys until the new OS comes out.
– Tim, 50 +, computer system consultant in Toronto
Thorsten Heins: BlackBerry 10 is more than just a new operating system. It's an entirely new platform. The software and the hardware are designed together and the operating system will interact with the hardware in ways that are very different from BlackBerry 7. This is part of what gives BlackBerry 10 its power. In the meantime, we are continuing to sell, support and update BlackBerry 7, which is a versatile and powerful operating system in its own right – with one of the fastest mobile browsers, voice-enabled search, and BlackBerry Messenger 6.