RIM's dual challenge: Build quality smartphones while boosting management software

BlackBerry 10 devices, delayed until 2013, will build on Mobile Fusion for managing devices, RIM exec says

BlackBerry 10 smartphones, delayed until early 2013, will have the "best browsers in the industry" and will come in touchscreen-only models as well as those with traditional physical keyboards, a Research In Motion executive said Thursday.

RIM's BlackBerry 10 devices, announced in May, will have an overall focus on communications that "drives efficient communications to a new level," said Peter Devenyi, senior vice president of enterprise software at RIM.

"We must build devices that appeal to everybody -- workers and consumers. That's what BlackBerry 10 is about -- to be the most appealing smartphone that also works effectively and seamlessly in a person's work life," Devenyi said in a telephone interview.

RIM recognizes how important its smartphones and its BlackBerry Enterprise Server software are to its overall business, Devenyi said. That's become especially true as workers who make up the core of BlackBerry's customer base increasingly want to use smartphones and tablets that run Apple' iOS or Google's Android operating systems for workplace activities.

"There's always going to be lots of corporate [purchased] devices, but BYOD devices are outpacing corporate," he said. Research firm IDC put BlackBerry at 6% of the global market in the first quarter, half of its share in the first quarter of 2011, a decline that many blame on weaknesses in features in the BlackBerry, including its browser and touchscreen.

Devenyi said the Webkit browser inside BlackBerry 7 devices is a "tremendous browser," but said BlackBerry 10 will take it to a "whole new level."

Just days after reports surfaced that the first BlackBerry 10 smartphones will be touchscreen devices and won't have the customary physical keyboard loved by many BlackBerry users, Devenyi sought to clarify: "We're not abandoning the physical keyboard. We'll be delivering in 2013 both touch and physical keyboards."

The past few months have been difficult for RIM, Devenyi acknowledged. Last week, RIM disappointed investors with negative earnings, layoffs and news that BlackBerry 10 software and devices would be delayed into 2013.

Still, RIM CEO Thorsten Heins defended RIM on Tuesday, telling a Canadian radio audience that RIM is not in a "death spiral" even though its stock fell 19% last Friday on the earnings news. Heins' comments might have helped, since the RIM stock price bumped up 4.2% to $7.66 at 1 p.m. ET on Thursday from its close on Tuesday for the July 4 holiday.

"The transition we're going through is tough, as Thorsten has stated, but we've never seen a company as committed to going through transition as what we see here at RIM," Devenyi said. "It's nice to do [the transition] with $2.2 billion of cash and no debt and a growing customer base which remains number one in many countries." He said there are currently 78 million BlackBerry devices and 250,000 BES servers in use globally.

RIM remains committed to BlackBerry 10, but Devenyi admitted that a variety of other strategies for growth are being investigated. "A number of strategic opportunities are being looked into, and we will continue to do that, and yet our firm commitment is to drive forward with our next-generation mobile computing platform, the nucleus of which is BlackBerry 10," he said.

He did clarify, however, that "we don't believe it's in RIM's best interest or that of the shareholders to be dependent on a third party OS." Some analysts have speculated that RIM might want to use the Windows Phone or Android OS on future BlackBerry smartphones.

Devenyi did not comment on other strategic options that have been raised, including possibly licensing the BlackBerry OS to other smartphone manufacturers or licensing or selling the RIM network operations center and network to other smartphone makers to use to secure their smartphones.

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