At this stage in proceedings, you probably won’t need to be reminded in detail of the disastrous series of events and errors that have plagued Research In Motion over the last couple of years. When the clumsy reign of its former co-CEOs, Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis, finally ended earlier this year, and Thorsten Heins took over as chief executive, it was widely hoped that RIM had turned a corner.
The announcement of a substantial delay to its next-generation BlackBerry 10 OS – along with the all-new smartphones that will run the new operating system – seemed to crush those hopes rather swiftly. But Heins remains optimistic about the company’s future, telling The Telegraph of a possible plan to make BB10 a more viable proposition in the long run.
“We don’t have the economy of scale to compete against the guys who crank out 60 handsets a year,” Heins explained. “We have to differentiate and have a focused platform. To deliver BB10, we may need to look at licensing it to someone who can do this at a way better cost proposition than I can do it. There’s different options we could do that we’re currently investigating.”
So, the idea here seems to be to license the OS to other OEMs, but Heins’ explanation appears to actually undermine RIM’s ability to make BlackBerry 10 a success on its own. Indeed, he seemed to be hinting that, without some sort of licensing arrangement, BB10 may end up being prohibitively expensive for RIM alone to achieve its aims for the new OS.
Heins continued: “You could think about us building a reference system, and then basically licensing that reference design, have others build the hardware around it – either it’s a BlackBerry or it’s something else built on the BlackBerry platform. We’re investigating this and it’s way too early to get into any details.” On the face of it, this appears to suggest that the company is considering outsourcing hardware manufacturing to a third-party, potentially leaving RIM to focus solely on the software ecosystem. Given how much value lies in the company's BBM and email services, this might not be such a bad idea.
“We have to model this from a finance perspective,” Heins explained. “That’s why we’re working with the financial advisers to see if we do this, where would it take the company. Either we do it ourselves or we do it with a partner. But we will not abandon the subscriber base.” But for the existing subscriber base – whose devices will not be upgradeable to BB10 – Heins’ referral to BlackBerry 7 in the past tense isn’t entirely encouraging: “We know that BlackBerry OS7 was a great platform – but it would not carry us to where we wanted to be tomorrow, with the full mobile computing experience.”
Heins insists that RIM is “not in a trough”, and remains bullish on the company’s future, despite the challenges it faces: “We don’t have the resources like a Microsoft; we have to place one bet and make it right; we don’t want to go for an intermediate step. [BlackBerry 10] comes out in the first quarter, and I think a lot of people are going to be surprised.”