RIM's CEO: What went wrong and where BlackBerry goes from here

In an exclusive Q&A, RIM CEO Thorsten Heins discusses the state of BlackBerry and how it fell from grace and what the company is doing to ensure things don't get worse

You're right that market share overall is declining. The reason is the growth is in touch. QWERTY is pretty stable, it's a stable segment, growing slowly. The growth is in the full touch device business, and that's where we will see growth. There is a loyal segment of BlackBerry users in the U.S. I think you will see the shrinkage of the BlackBerry market come to a halt. I think we've bottomed out on this one. Not that I'm satisfied with it, okay? That's why I'm building BlackBerry 10 to fight that back.

Q: In the Globe and Mail editorial, you cited RIM's relationships with 650 carriers around the globe as a major strength of the BlackBerry brand. Obviously, carriers play a very important role in handheld sales and marketing today, and carriers' efforts at marketing devices can make or break a device launch. It may be different in other countries, but right now, when I walk into a wireless carrier's store in the U.S., I barely see any BlackBerry presence. What is RIM doing with its carrier partners to convince them to put resources behind the BlackBerry 10 launch?

A: I cannot give you specifics on carriers, but our new CMO, Frank Boulben, is working with carriers on go-to-market plans, not just in the U.S., but really global for early in the first quarter next year.

We will do everything necessary to be successful. And also, the carriers are supporting us, Al, because they see a duopoly. iPhone and iOS are proprietary and basically closed to them. And they see Android now as actually kind of monopolized by Samsung. So they want to serve choice, and we have to prove to them, that's our job with BlackBerry 10, that we offer that choice and we can offer the competitive element of the market that they're now seeking.

Q: The general message of your recent editorial, and your message in your BlackBerry World keynote address in May, is that you understand BlackBerry stock holders', customers', and users' frustration, but that they should keep the faith and their patience will be rewarded. But how long do they have to wait for RIM to prove it is still in the game? Will BlackBerry 10 solve all of RIM's problems? Or are we looking at two or three more years before faith in RIM is restored?

A: Faith in RIM and the financial expression of that are two different things. I'm not happy with the situation at RIM either. Who can be happy and satisfied with where we are? What I am satisfied with is that I know we have a path to the future with BlackBerry 10, because I see it.

In January with the full touch device and the QWERTY coming, I think we will reinstall faith in RIM. That's what we're working on. This is what our objective is, and when I've talked to carriers about the delay of BlackBerry 10, the overwhelming feedback was, "First, thank you for letting us know in advance. Second, Q4 is mostly a prepaid quarter anyway, lot of noise coming, actually why don't we focus on a Q1 [2013] launch and make this a major launch in Q1?" I think we have a lot of support there.

I have faith in the future. My team is working relentlessly to create that future.

Q: You're not worried about missing the 2012 holiday season?

A: I'm not happy about this, but the point is, there's a lot of noise out there anyway. You have to ask yourself, is it good to launch within a lot of noise? How do you get above the noise then? Or do you launch outside of this noise and get much more attention?

It's never good to be late. But without disclosing the entire launch schedule that we had in mind for BlackBerry 10, it's actually not as dramatic as many people see it in terms of what we forecasted in volume and what we had in our financial predictions.

Q: How long will it be before we see a second or third BB10 device? How many different devices will RIM ship in 2013?

A: Very shortly after. I won't give you a specific date, but it's kind of like a one-two punch. You will see more than two devices, but I can also tell you that you will see us being much more focused in the product portfolio that we will be bringing out. The number of devices we will offer is going to be quite dramatically reduced. But that is not because we can't do it [offer more devices]; the reason is the portfolio quality that we want to put in play here.

That was part of the globalization of BlackBerry. We just had too many products out there. That's part of the focus program I'm running at RIM. We have very loyal customers that really like their BlackBerrys, so there's no need to churn them every six months.

Q: Finally, I'd like to ask you for a prediction: Where will RIM be in one year from now? In July of 2013, what will I be writing about RIM and BlackBerry?

A: I think you will be writing that you are surprised by the performance and the user experience of the BlackBerry 10 product, that it helps you achieve your daily objectives but also have fun. By then you will see that this is a true mobile computing platform that allows BlackBerry to even explore other domains and spaces, like automotive, in cars.

I think you will be writing that if BlackBerry gets its execution right and straight than the company has a great future.

I know that you're personally disappointed with us shifting back BlackBerry 10, and I understand it. I get it entirely. But I want to win your personal faith back, too, and win your conviction in RIM back that we are a great company and we are a company that can create the future.

Al Sacco covers Mobile and Wireless for CIO.com. Follow Al on Twitter @ASacco. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Al at asacco@cio.com

This story, "RIM's CEO: What went wrong and where BlackBerry goes from here" was originally published by CIO.

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