RIM CEO Thorsten Heins, days ahead of the company’s long-awaited reveal of its BlackBerry 10 platform and new smartphones, spoke with German newspaper Die Welt about RIM’s current position and its prospects for the future, which could include selling its hardware unit.
RIM’s future will be largely determined by the world’s response to its new phones. Heins and his team have repeated that they’re considering all options, but they don’t want to move on them until after the release of BlackBerry 10 and they get an idea of how well it’s selling in the market. Heins has said that licensing software or applications like the popular BlackBerry Messenger are possibilities, but in the Die Welt interview, he made clear that truly all options are being considered.
“We do not want to limit our options,” Heins said, according to a Google translation. “There are several options, including the sale of the hardware production.”
He added, “But there is no reason for us to decide in [these hectic times].”
Word of the possible hardware sale sent RIM’s stock price climbing to its highest since late 2011.
Heins also told the paper that 70,000 apps are now ready for the new platform—RIM has been hosting 36-hour developer Port-A-Thons, the first of which resulted in 15,000 new apps and the second 19,000—but that he believes quality is more essential than quantity.
“There are studies that say that, for example, of all Android applications, only 50 percent have been downloaded at least once,” said Heins. “Of course, you need a certain selection, corresponding to regional preferences.”
When asked what has changed at the company since he took the helm a year ago, Heins suggested that RIM, despite its significant market share losses to Apple, Samsung and other Android-backers, is in not bad shape.
The management team is all new, and a leaner company means reduced costs, said Heins.
“Meanwhile, decisions are made faster, and responsibilities are distributed,” he said. “We are still in the middle of this process. We even increased the liquidity, although many [people] predicted that we would burn money.”
RIM is debt-free and has $2.9 billion in cash available, according to Heins.
Given RIM’s business association, and the preference smartphone users have shown for consumer devices, Heins was asked whether he had bet on the wrong horse.
“That may still be the perception, but it is no longer the reality,” Heins answered, pointing out that BlackBerry devices are popular in Indonesia, South Africa and the UK, where BlackBerry Messenger is the draw and has little association of being a business tool. RIM’s fate, he said, will be mainly decided by “countries with a high rate of innovation.”
But RIM’s focus is not only on BlackBerry handsets, Heins said, addressing a question about why BlackBerry 10’s arrival has taken so long.
“Our aim is not only to [make] smartphones, but also to be used, for example, in cars that will be in the future increasingly networked,” said Heins. “We see with BlackBerry 10 completely new areas of growth.”
Which leads back to the question of what RIM will sell off and what it might license. Could it license BlackBerry 10 to other handset makers, as Microsoft does Windows Phone, asked Die Welt.
“Before you license the software, you must show that the platform has large potential,” said Heins.
“First we have to fulfill our promises,” he explained. “If such proof exists, a licensing deal is conceivable.”