BlackBerry Physical Keyboards Are Here to Stay: RIM CEO

By Michelle Maisto  |  Posted 2012-05-02

BlackBerry Physical Keyboards Are Here to Stay: RIM CEO

ORLANDO, Fla. €” Research In Motion CEO Thorsten Heins dispelled the notion that the company would rid its BlackBerry devices of their physical keyboards. €œWe are not abandoning the BlackBerry physical keyboard,€ Heins told reporters at the company€™s show here, adding that RIM is about to undergo a major change that he hopes will grow both its enterprise customers, as well as consumer base.

On the second day of BlackBerry World 2012, Heins discussed RIM's focus and its need for more of it. Since he first joined the company four years ago, RIM has grown from a 6,000-plus-person company to being more than 20,000 employees strong.

"With that kind of growth, it becomes easy to lose efficiency. Everything becomes something you want to pursue because everything is so exciting," said Heins during a May 2 meeting with reporters. He added, "Now, RIM has a little fat on the hips and we need to be lean, mean."

Some slimming down certainly occurred in January when Heins replaced longtime co-CEOs Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis. RIM now plans to "line everything up" under just one chief operating officer, and to hire a top-gun marketing person.

Heins also, and arguably effectively, pushed the ideas that RIM's inability to deliver in recent quarters was due to internal inefficiencies€”both the bloat of extra people and of a need for consensus; too many meetings but too few people making decisions€” and the tough but necessary decision to pursue a new platform, the culmination of which will be BlackBerry 10. With its new Dev Alpha smartphones, the new platform will arrive later this year.

To the first point, Heins said that company morale is up.

"People needed focus," he explained, in a comment attached to a "misunderstanding" that followed RIM's most recent earnings call. Some media outlets reported that RIM was getting out of the consumer game to focus on its enterprise customers.

"That is absolutely not true: RIM is not leaving the consumer business," Heins said, explaining that there were "many things on the consumer side that were nice to do but not core to the business." There are things that are nice to have, such as gaming and mapping, but these are not core to the business and so are areas best addressed through relationships.

To the second point, Heins explained that a year-and-a-half ago RIM faced the reality that BlackBerry 7, while a fantastic platform, had reached its potential.

"The decision was: we've got to do it,€ said Heins. €œWe have no choice, as tough as it is. We have to build a new mobile computing platform for the next decade."

RIM Finds Itself on the Right Road but Not at Its Destination, CEO Heins Says

To create the next platform, RIM purchased QNX€” a "micro-kernel" OS that hadn't been allowed to splinter, Android style, and was being used by 95 percent of all car brands and was in 60 percent of cars on the road. From there, RIM employees made tremendous personal sacrifices to develop the platform, trying to compress a process that normally takes years.

Now, RIM finds itself on what executives feel is the right road, but not yet at its destination.

What happens until it arrives?

"We have a lot of hard work still ahead of us," said Heins. "We still need to integrate it. We need a lot of test time€”we call this hip time€”and then the reports flow in."

As for BlackBerry 7, once BlackBerry 10 arrives later this year, a dedicated team of a "few hundred" employees in Raleigh, N.C., will continue to support BlackBerry 7 users "for a while."

The new OS, Heins said in answer to another question, will also have localization teams dealing with country-specific adaptations of devices and software. Another cool feature of BB10€”a detail left out of yesterday's presentation€”is that "it's very easy for the keyboard to detect what your native language is."

Regarding the potential licensing of BlackBerry 10 to hardware partners, such as Samsung, Heins said he couldn't yet comment on that. "First," he said, "I need to prove BlackBerry 10 to my team."

Heins said he didn't want to dwell on the problems that got RIM where it is. "We don't have an LTE [Long-Term Evolution] product yet. We probably innovated too much in our touch solutions €¦ But we are where we are."

He added that he "absolutely expects" RIM to regain its market share in the United States. "We are here to win," said Heins. "I'm not here to be just in the game."

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