Research in Motion - BlackBerry in the Works

— May 02, 2012

BlackBerry World 2012 is now in its second full day and there is clearly no lack of enthusiasm from the roughly 5,000 people from 115 countries who are at the Marriott Orlando World Center participating in a wide variety of BlackBerry sessions. Sponsor booths at the min-trade show Showcase are not what they've been in the past, but if RIM plays its cards right over the rest of 2012 that will very likely change in 2013. 
 
During his keynote, and later in a closed door session with the media, President and CEO of Research in Motion, Thorsten Heins - an eminently likable person, and one who clearly has managed to completely circumvent the hubris some of us had noted had developed in the previous chain of command, much to the detriment of the company over the last several years - elaborated in-depth on his operating philosophy for RIM as well as his goals for the company. Primarily the message is one of focus - across all aspects of the business, from ensuring that the management team is all on the same page, to having clarity of mission for the company's operating system - or as Heins refers to it, the company's "mobile operating platform." 
 
RIM has staked its future as an independent mobility company on its BlackBerry OS 10 operating system, and Heins spent a good amount of time speaking to the key issues that rest with the successful delivery of the mobile OS. First Heins made it clear that BB 10 goes well beyond smartphones and tablets. He notes that the underlying QNX is now being used by 95 percent of the auto industry, and that 65 percent of all cars on the road now have QNX embedded in them. Heins also noted that QNX is a true multitasking, multiprocessor optimized OS, and that it runs within most of Cisco's large scale routers that the Internet operates on.
 
These are all more or less known facts. The point here is that QNX is a highly stable operating system that has been built from the ground up to remain a tightly designed kernel - one that has never been forked or otherwise bastardized - for lack of a better word - through iterations that did not remain core to its central needs. This was the key to RIM acquiring QNX, and it is central to the philosophy RIM is applying to its future. The company intends for the OS to remain a tight and clean, so that developers have a very clear understanding of the platform they are developing for.
 
During the keynote Heins demonstrated a number of very cool features - and focused particularly on virtual keyboard technology and a new concept of "floating" windows and smooth, seamless communication between multiple programs, flows of conversations, and the flow of data between different apps. He showed the gathered crowd a simple example of a floating set of windows - the key takeaway from which was the smoothness of the overall operation. But it also demonstrated a new and forward thinking approach to UI design - something that will be critical to RIM's success when its new devices are unveiled later in the year.
 
Heins pointed out to the media that when he took the helm it was clear to him that though there was a great deal of collaboration within the company, as the company grew from roughly 3,000 in 2007 to about 20,000 over the next three years, the open collaboration became unwieldy and unmanageable - and created an operation that was not able to scale up to the needs of a $20B company. Heins pointed to a lack of decision making capability at the regional level, and a culture that ended up relying too heavily on management by consensus - something that he is working hard to correct through giving trusted management team members more power and leeway to make critical decisions directly. This will prove to be a key business enabler for RIM.
 
The company is now focused on delivering a platform that will be primarily enterprise-driven, though it will also seek to "augment" the platform with desirable consumer features that will give its hardware renewed cachet with workforces - the hope being that they devices become, by default, workforce consumer preferences. The company will not entirely abandon the consumer market - there are far too many roads to revenue to do that, but RIM will be smarter about what it launches into the consumer domain, and will retain an enterprise focus first and foremost.
 
On the BlackBerry OS 7 front, Heins has made it clear that it is at the end of its lifecycle as far as new development is concerned. BB 10 is RIM's future and the company has fully come to grips with this reality. Never-the-less RIM is maintaining a team of about 200 to ensure that OS 7 remains viable for those users who continue to use it. Version 7 will also play a key role in RIM's efforts to move global users away from feature phones and onto low-cost RIM smartphones. 
 
There is one thing that Heins did not do. Aside from demonstrating the new BlackBerry 10 Alpha Developer's phone, he made absolutely no mention of nor hinted at what any BB 10 device is likely to be or look like. At most he was willing to note that there will be a PlayBook that supports LTE coming soon. We can expect to see some physical keyboard devices but it is clear that Heins understands that slim virtual keyboard devices are the future.
 
We'll return to what RIM is doing in more depth over the coming days, but first impressions based on Heins keynote and his media briefing suggest that RIM is on the right track. There is no question that Heins did not have a strong hand to play - he's only been at the helm of the company for about 4 months. But he's played the current hand well, and he is now in a position to deal the next hand.
 
We anticipate that he will prove to be a winning player. Stay tuned.

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