In this interview RIM CEO Thorsten Heins tells us why BlackBerry 10 will restore faith among both consumers and investors and what makes the African market special..
Thorsten Heins, Chief Executive Officer of BlackBerry makers Research in Motion, was in Johannesburg last month to meet with mobile [GoldstuckHeins] 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.
Arthur Goldstuck: South Africans right now are still very loyal to BlackBerry and brand momentum is still growing. But at the same time, a lot of people are saying, ‘What is going to happen to us BlackBerry users?’ It comes down to the American market, where Blackberry has imploded. The feeling is that, what happens in America, will ultimately happen here. How does Blackberry plan to recapture the American market and therefore re-instill confidence in markets like South Africa and the rest of the developing markets?
Thorsten Heins: First and foremost, we appreciate the strong commitment of our customers to us in South Africa. This is a very, very successful market. It is a clear number one market for us, but not the only one. We have Indonesia where we are number one in smartphones. In the Philippines, I don’t know how many quarters consecutively we have been number one in smartphones. So there’s a broader business base than just in South Africa that we can appreciate. This is a customer base that carries us through to the transition to BlackBerry 10 right now.
The United States is very different. The US was very much driven by a tectonic shift to full touch screens devices among consumers and to LTE (4G connectivity) in a very short time frame in the enterprise space. All the marketing money from the carriers is going to 4G. All the major promotions: all the bus stops have a 4G sign on it. That is why we have lost and are still losing market share. But it is slowing down.
There are two routes to recapturing that market. Firstly, we are working on our installed user base. So far the upgrade ratio from BB 5 and BB 6 devices to BlackBerry 7 has increased from 8% BB 7 enterprise penetration to 22% in the last two quarters, which is really very significant.
The second thing is to get Blackberry 10 into the market and make sure it fulfills all users’ requirements, such as the full LTE experience. And there will be a touch version of it. But then we must also set BlackBerry 10 apart in terms of the user experience. So it’s not just competing on spec terms, not just competing on radio technology terms. We will go back to the market and we will, on top of that, compete on a new user paradigm that we are introducing with BlackBerry 10.
AG: Do you have a launch date yet?
TH: Last week, when we met with Verizon, they publicly stated, so its not a secret, that they will be launching Blackberry 10 in the first quarter of 2013. I would be very, very optimistic that other US carriers will follow suit.
We have a firm date when we will hit their labs for lab testing. As with every carrier, they have different cycle times for the testing cycle to get ready for first customer shipments. We’re working with the carriers on these launch dates, but it for sure will be in the first quarter 2013.