NEW YORK—BlackBerry has replaced its annual BlackBerry World conference with half-day BlackBerry Experience events in cities around the world. It opened its BlackBerry Experience here April 10 with a keynote from John Sims, its new president of Global Enterprise Services. In addition to sharing the company's "vision," Sims had a clear message for the customers in the audience: This is a new BlackBerry, and we're going to do everything in our power to hold on to your business.
"Maybe you've expected things from BlackBerry in the past and we haven't delivered," said Sims. "What I will tell you is that [new CEO] John Chen ... and the management team he's assembled ... are very focused, and we have a proven track record in making things happen."
BlackBerry's plan going forward includes recommitting to regulated industries; expanding its value as a comprehensive and trusted mobility partner; and leveraging an ecosystem of BlackBerry and partner applications.
When BlackBerry says it's focused on enabling productivity, it means it's focused on doing that cross-platform, said Sims.
"Our position in the enterprise is we want to support all devices. ... That's quite a distinction from what [we did] in the past. In the past we would have mumbled that we also support iOS and Android. We don't mumble anymore," Sims said during a small press conference following the keynote, where he expanded on the topic as well as answered questions.
Once BlackBerry makes improvements to BBM, how will it get the next wave of users interested?
A combination of factors, including grassroots programs to reach the people who downloaded it the first time but wound up not using it much, said Sims.
Is there a scenario in which BlackBerry could offer cross-platform support, even when no BlackBerry phones are included?
"Yes, we can certainly envisage that—the enterprise business has no problem with that," said Sims, adding that of course the ideal scenario is to have BlackBerry devices in the mix.
Does BlackBerry have any plans for a tablet?
"We don't have any tablet plans right now," said Sims. Chen says he likes the idea of a tablet, Sims added, "but again, we don't have any plans for a tablet right now."
What kind of partnerships does BlackBerry have with Microsoft?
"BES12 will support Windows Phone devices. Why? Because enterprise customers are asking us for that."
What are you saying to customers who have left? Are there plans to get them back?
"We talk to the people who are no longer Blackberry customers," said Sims. "We apologize for the fact that we contributed to a scenario that made them move away [from the platform]. And we get good feedback from them."
Talking with customers is in fact a big part of what Chen and his new team have been doing, said Sims, and that "increased touch" is inspiring customers to have patience, knowing that BlackBerry understands their needs.
BlackBerry's planned Innovation Center in Washington, D.C., slated to open later this year, is in sync with this effort. Customers are "looking forward to having [a place] where they can collaborate on the next thing they're working on," said Sims.
At one point, Chen joined the briefing, primarily to clear up a report made by Reuters the evening before regarding BlackBerry's plans for its handset business.
"First of all—love the handset business," smiled Chen, before explaining how things had gone awry the day before. Basically, he added, "The only news is, we're committed to the handset business and we're going to make it work. That's the only news."
Chen also fielded a few questions.
What keeps you up at night?
"Service activation fees are coming down very fast. ... I cannot turn around the reality about SAF decline, but we can slow it down," said Chen.
Will BlackBerry make more all-touch-screen devices?
Does BlackBerry's CEO use a touch-screen or a QWERTY BlackBerry?
Both, said Chen. Though he conceded, "I like the QWERTY keyboard a lot more."