Heins aims for BlackBerry turnround, not break-up

Research In Motion’s new chief executive has promised a turnround in its troubled US market and said he would resist calls to break up the group behind BlackBerry smartphones.

“In the US, I think it is a turnround story in terms of our position in the market, our perception in the market,” Thorsten Heins told the Financial Times. “A turnround in the US is going to happen.”

Mr Heins, who took over from co-chief executives Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie last week, said the integration of a network known for its security and handsets with their distinctive keyboards was what distinguished RIM from other smartphone groups.

“This differentiates us as much as it differentiates Apple,” he said. If RIM were to sell its data network or services, “then I’m head-to-head with all these groups from Asia like HTC and Samsung and they would just kill me in a price war. I will stay integrated. I think Apple has a great business model.”

Mr Heins said he had been “shocked” to discover that 80-90 per cent of RIM’s US customers were still using old BlackBerry 5 and BlackBerry 6 operating systems, whose slower browser speeds have frustrated users.

In two weeks, RIM would start heavily promoting upgrades to its BlackBerry 7 operating system in the US, he said, adding that the group’s marketing budget would increase in the coming quarter. “This can’t be a silent launch any more. This is consumer electronics marketing and it is competitive.”

US carriers led by AT&T and Verizon Wireless have promoted rival devices such as the iPhone and the Droid heavily in recent years. BlackBerry’s market share has tumbled and its problems were exacerbated last year by product delays and an extended outage in its network.

BlackBerry 7, launched in the US last August with no television advertising, was “absolutely competitive”, Mr Heins argued. However, RIM plans to offer a package of free applications to customers who upgrade to counter its image for lacking the diversity of apps available on Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android operating systems.

The push behind BlackBerry 7 is needed because of delays announced in December to the launch of handsets using a new operating system called BlackBerry 10. The new system would be released “later this year,” but Mr Heins said he would not rush out an imperfect upgrade.

“I want to get product out when it’s ready,” he said, adding that RIM should have waited until it had better applications before putting out the PlayBook tablet, which sold badly. RIM will offer a free software upgrade for the PlayBook next month.

RIM’s international handset business grew 50 per cent last quarter and offered continued opportunities as Asian markets’ adoption of smartphones accelerated. “It’s a growth story in the rest of the world,” Mr Heins said.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved. You may share using our article tools. Please don't cut articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.