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BW Businessworld

‘Our Focus Is Mobility’

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Blackberry, the smartphone brand that once stood for success in business globally, has been on a downward spiral over the past 18 months as competitors Apple and Samsung have surged ahead to occupy the mobile space.The BlackBerry has lost ground in its own land of birth, Canada. But thanks to young messaging addicts and rootedness in the enterprise, it still is prominent in India, Indonesia and other emerging markets. In fact, Research In Motion (RIM), BlackBerry's parent, headed to India for the global launch of its Curve upgrade, the 9220. Carlo Chiarello, RIM's executive vice president, Smartphone Division spoke  to BW's  Mala Bhargava on the company's plans for BlackBerry 10, the operating system for RIM's future phones and tablets. Excerpts:

What is your product roadmap going up to when BlackBerry 10 will be launched?
We generally do not talk about products that have not been launched, but certainly, we are going to make sure that in the markets that we are depending on, and the clientele that we are addressing, we are constantly looking at the roadmap to make sure that we produce the products that make the most sense. The current 9220 is sort of an example of that. It was really focused on understanding we wanted to have not only in the Indian market but some additional growth markets where people are still coming from feature phones and even from earlier smartphones and wanting more.

Why does BlackBerry 10 have to take so long, considering you have had QNX, which it is based on, for a while now?
BlackBerry 10 is later this year and we are purposely not giving specifics on which month it is going to launch. But I have been actively talking to our carrier partners on BlackBerry 10 and we are on track with a number of them to go into lab later this spring and early summer. There are no delays. QNX is a great kernel and one of the first things we produced on it was the Playbook, but BlackBerry 10 is really much more when you think of all the elements that need to go into a smartphone, the radio calling features, the elements that go into the specific applications and that is incrementally much more than what is on the Playbook today, in terms of customer expectations of what they would want in a device. As you can imagine, smartphones, to a large extent, have much more capability than some of their tablet counterparts when you think of all the things they have to adhere to; certification and so on, they are a lot different, so while QNX is a good base to jump off from Playbook 2.0, we feel it is important that we take it through the appropriate paces, get the right applications developed. And there are a few things that we are doing that go well beyond from an infrastructure and architecture perspective on the product which is to make it a really mobile environment that not only applies to smartphones but to tablets as well. I'll go as far as to say that eventually it becomes the thing that could go into vehicles like our QNX system which already operates in numerous vehicles around the world.

Where would you expect your competition to have reached by the time the BlackBerry 10 OS is ready later this year?
We will probably have the most contemporary design, OS infrastructure, at that point in time. Yes, there are others out there who are developing their own things, but our focus still is really, truly, mobility. And so you have got Android that will be doing its own thing and has a certain go-to-market approach. But, I do know that we will have the most advanced mobile operating system.

When you say mobile, are you saying that it is different from the way other players approach mobile?
Where we came at it from, whether it is phones or tablets or eventually going into vehicles, we are really focused on how to make those experiences mobile by nature first. Unlike some of our competitors that have PC and desktop markets which inevitably mean that there is an element there in terms of their multi-screen access, what we try and focus on is all the elements that are mobile. A great example – though I cannot go into details is that there is an application developed by one of our partners that was really a web based application, but when you go talking to them and talking to some customers, they really want it to be more mobile in nature: something that is very quick, very easy, something that they could access on the go and something that they could easily exercise on the spur of the moment. We took that as the genesis for a mobile application on the device. Customers should necessarily need it to access the internet or the cloud; we just want to make sure that however the user wants to use it, it should be optimised for the handset or the application that it was intended for.

BlackBerry 10's arrival could coincide with the launch of Windows 8. How are you preparing for a time when the attention could be on the new Windows on phones and other devices?
The simple approach is to partner with lots of good carriers to bring the product to fruition. We want to make sure that we get the right things in place in terms of our product marketing messages, and that we truly deliver a stellar product and in the end the consumer is going to make the choice. We want to make sure that we have got the things, that we have got control over, aligned and then we absolutely understand that there are others who will be competing for mindshare. So we will invest appropriately to make sure that are voice is being heard.

Will BlackBerry 10 be truly disruptive when it eventually comes to market?
There is an element of innovation going into the product. More than anything it is going to be about that user experience and how users will gravitate to it, and I have to be careful not to go too far into things I cannot really talk about just yet. We think we have got a really great experience that people are going to love, we think that we are focusing on the right things; that we are making sure that users, when they get the product, feel like they have got something that will liberate them versus what they have been doing with other products whether it is the social communication side of it, or even simply how they view and interact with the actual interface. I think there is going to be enough new and powerful experiences that we feel customers will love the BlackBerry 10 experience and start us off until the next decade.

RIM is often criticised for not doing enough until BlackBerry 10 becomes a reality. What will you do until then?
We are going to continue doing things that we believe we are doing right. We are choosing specifically what we do, very carefully, between now and when BlackBerry 10 becomes available. BlackBerry 7 products, on a global basis, will continue to be part of that, and incremental things that we do with those products are going to be just as important.

Some of the features that you bring, incrementally, to products, have existed with other products. For example the FM radio on the new 9220. How does that really become a game changer?
The FM radio was always something that was, if you look at the way BlackBerry was growing up, never a priority. Even in the Indian context. Very simply put, we heard loud and clear that it needed to be there, if we wanted to maintain or grow the base here in India and some other markets. So we included it. I am not saying it is an innovation or a disrupter; it is something that needed to be in the product.

What are your enterprise segment plans?
There is a lot of focus on enterprise from the software perspective, and how we continue that. The enterprise software evolution is a big part of it. Another big part is making sure that our enterprises are on the most recent devices. A lot of enterprises, because IT managers want to maintain their investments as long as possible, are using really old BlackBerrys. And so a big focus is to make sure that IT managers understand what new products we currently have and in getting some of that base understand our capabilities. It is not unusual to find enterprises that are still running BlackBerry 5 or 6.

How will your Mobile Fusion plan pan out?
As an IT manager, you will have the Mobile Fusion console, and you will have, for specific individuals, all the devices that would be associated with them in a company (on the console). If a person has an Android phone, he would be able to use that phone, as part of the business environment, and be able to do things such as backup and restore. You cannot overlay security on another device unless it has been built in, so our encrypted infrastructure cannot be overlaid on other devices. But there are other software administration and management tasks that will be possible to control.