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Thorsten Heins interview Pt 2: Secrets of BlackBerry 10

Date posted: October 24, 2012

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In the second part of this interview, RIM CEO Thorsten Heins tells Arthur Goldstuck (@art2gee) about competing with Apple, how the BlackBerry’s notorious freezes have been overcome, and reveals the company’s secret weapon.

Thorsten Heins, Chief Executive Officer of BlackBerry makers Research in Motion, was in Johannesburg last month to meet with mobile network operators and introduce them to the BlackBerry 10 devices that will be launched in the first quarter of 2013. In the only interview he gave in South Africa, he spoke frankly with MarkLives columnist and Gadget editor-in-chief Arthur Goldstuck (@art2gee) about the challenges facing RIM.

(See Part 1 of this interview: Why BlackBerry 10 will restore faith among both consumers and investors, and what makes the African market special.)

Arthur Goldstuck: How will BlackBerry 10 compete with the appeal and intuitiveness of the iPhone, Android and Windows 8? Will it be able to convince existing and new users, as well as those who have abandoned it?

Thorsten Heins: BlackBerry 10 is a new experience, but it is also a BlackBerry experience, and it is built to appeal to new users as well as to people who know BlackBerry today. There is one key element which was misunderstood when I announced it at BlackBerry World in May. There is a physical keyboard coming. It will be built on the BlackBerry 10 user paradigm, so it is different, but it is true to the roots and values of BlackBerry.

BlackBerry is a multitasking device – now we are making that the forefront of the device. We are building true multitasking into the forefront.

Apple introduced a very intuitive user interface five years ago. You call up an application and it does what it must do, you hit the black button and call up the next application. The sequence is in-out-in-out.

The thing about the original BlackBerry phones is that, at the time, it was like magic. It was the first one where you could hit the phone number in your e-mail and it would make the phone call – you didn’t have to take any other action. We thought about that, and about how they said at the time this flow was magic. So, on BlackBerry 10, we have introduced the flow concept. There’s no break or disruption in the user paradigm. We take what is good and working on the BlackBerry interface, but in terms of evolution to a new user experience.

The new operating system is truly multi-threaded. It allows several applications to run at the same time, in real time, and not on an in-out-in-out basis. We have all the apps not just on a  grid, but up and running on a grid, so the moment you hit them, they are running on the grid.

At launch, there will be three full-screen devices with a virtual keyboard, and three devices with a physical QWERTY keyboard, but you will have the same BlackBerry 10 experience on all of these.

AG: Will BlackBerry 10 address the concerns and frustrations users have with the current device always freezing, the wait for applications to load, the slow App World, and the poor browsing experience?

TH: BlackBerry 7 is a good OS, but it’s a computing engine and you have to constantly upgrade a computing engine. Upgrades are difficult because it’s an integrated architecture, and you have to ask network operators to get it into their labs all the time. Part of our evolution is the recognition that we can’t go on like this. We realised we can’t go on with a 15-year-old BlackBerry OS. It served us well, at the time it was a wonderful invention based on the idea of a mobile messaging machine, but now it has to do something new.

We looked at moving to Android as an alternative to the BlackBerry OS, but we realised that, based on its capacity, we couldn’t satisfy our BlackBerry users with that.

I understand the frustrations about the freezes: that is a result of a platform reaching its limitations. We couldn’t go on like this, so we rebuilt it from scratch. Everything in this device is new; not one line of code made it from the old operating system.

I’ve had a BlackBerry 10 device on my hip for eight weeks. I have never had to reset it, and it has never frozen. The key is in the multi-kernel: if you hit a process and it does not execute properly, the icon goes grey, but the device carries on working. Just that one process gets restarted. It has a wonderful recovery process; it blocks this one process and the others continue to flow. It goes deep into the technology of the microkernel multi-threading process, and that allows us to have an immensely reliable system.

QNX (the operating system RIM bought in 2010, and the basis for BlackBerry 10) was certified by the US government because its level of security was a fit with military requirements – before we bought it. That was the gold nugget lying on a long sandy beach. This OS worked on all embedded systems, it went into vertical segments like automobiles and slot machines – everything we don’t see but, if it’s not reliable, it doesn’t work.

We believe in mobile computing, not just mobile phones. QNX taught us a lot about cars, but we also asked, what does it mean for other domains? For example, it can be the mobile computing system to manage an energy grid. It is for more than just BlackBerry 10.

I want us to be the company that manages all mobile computing end points, whether in a phone or car, across the data network globally. Today we are connecting 654 carriers, and our system is being used to carry data, reliably, across these networks.

That’s the vision for the company. I want to take it into the mobile computing space and be clear leader in that space.

AG: That data layer across most networks globally sounds like an incredible strategic asset –  BlackBerry’s secret weapon. How do you plan to leverage it?

TH (nodding vigorously): This is the secure, reliable connectivity layer for mobile computing that sits on top of carrier networks. They can run their own services across it, but the  secure layer on top of this, globally, will come from us.

Think of a car manufacturer that sells cars globally, and needs to address all in-car computers from a certain series, and get a message out, like ‘Put the car in the garage for the next 24 hours because we are giving it a big software update’. How many vehicle recalls do you see these days? Imagine the time and cost that can be saved if we can provide telemetry data from all these cars, on a  globally connected system, and with the endpoints managed for reliability and security.

There is so much to do right now – it is overwhelming in terms of priorities. RIM needs to figure out where to be the enabler, and where to utilise our own servers. But the opportunity is huge: mobile computing, end-point management, API’s created to add sensors to devices, using the mobile data network for distribution – basically any vertical application where we think we have a play, and where we can use our push and compression services.

Smartphones and tablets part of it, but they are not the only purpose of the company.

* Arthur Goldstuck heads up World Wide Worx (www.worldwideworx.com) and is editor-in-chief of Gadget. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee. Reprinted from Gadget.

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