BlackBerry embraces BYOD to win back customers

"We needed to catch the wave of BYOD and we were probably not the first ones to the party," says CEO Thorsten Heins.

BlackBerry hopes a new operating system will put it back in the race.

BlackBerry hopes a new operating system will put it back in the race.

BlackBerry seeks to win back Australian business from rivals after a late realisation that it must adapt to the growing trend of bring your own device (BYOD), company executives said at the BlackBerry 10 launch in Australia.

Australia is a “key market” for BlackBerry due its advanced network technology and high smartphone penetration, said CEO Thorsten Heins.

Matthew Ball, BlackBerry managing director of Australia and New Zealand, acknowledged customer losses due to BYOD and migration to other devices, but said he believes the new BlackBerry 10 OS positions the company to recapture market share.

“I want it back,” he said. “It’s my job to get it back.”

Heins in part blamed customer losses on the company's slowness to embrace BYOD. “We needed to catch the wave of BYOD and we were probably not the first ones to the party,” he said.

We needed to catch the wave of BYOD and we were probably not the first ones to the party

BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins

When BlackBerry did arrive, the company decided to “really engage” the growing segment of organisations with BYOD policies, “and make sure that we participate from a device perspective” and “also make sure our enterprises have the best cross-platform solution to manage various devices from various manufacturers in a very efficient and very secure way,” Heins said.

In keynote remarks, Heins described a “a very, very difficult and challenging transition” for BlackBerry in designing the new OS and devices.

When Heins began as CEO at the start of 2012, he received warnings that the company might go bankrupt before the release of BlackBerry 10, he said. People told him “we were just on a losing streak and should just fragment the company and sell it right away.”

But on launch day in Australia, BlackBerry is “debt free and as of last quarter ... we had $2.8 billion cash in the bank,” he said. “This is enough money to market BlackBerry 10 successfully” and fund research and development for future mobile products, he said.

Speaking later with reporters, Heins threw water on talk that he might sell the company to Lenovo, saying he hadn’t spoken face-to-face with Lenovo executives.

Heins questioned how serious Lenovo is about making a move, noting one Lenovo executive’s public comments that he wanted to learn BlackBerry’s business model.

“That would tell you what the maturity was if there would be any discussions,” Heins said.

In his keynote, Heins said the company considered but rejected the idea of building BlackBerry services for Google Android or Microsoft Windows Phone.

“We really thought hard about it,” but Heins decided that those operating systems didn’t share his vision of a “mobile computing” future, in which users expect to be able to do the same work on a mobile device that they do on any other computer.

Android and Windows Phone “are not mobile computing platforms,” he said.

However, BlackBerry could not continue to ignore BYOD was bringing those and other rival devices into the office, Heins said. “It’s not on us whether we can influence this or not."

BYOD drove many of BlackBerry’s decisions with BlackBerry 10 and is the reason why the Z10 phone is a touch-only device, he said. Employees are bringing touch devices into the office and “we had to participate in this trend.”

Meanwhile, BlackBerry Balance, a feature of BlackBerry 10 that divides the phone interface into personal and enterprise sections, is aimed at BYOD workers who want to keep work and play separate, Heins said.

The company requires organisations to buy its official mobile device management (MDM) service, BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) 10, to take advantage of some of the more advanced features of BlackBerry 10. Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney has criticised that approach as discouraging potential customers that have already invested in another vendor’s MDM.

Heins said BlackBerry will continue to compete in the MDM segment.

“We don’t just look at this from the perspective of being the best management system for smartphones, but we look at this like we need to build an established base of mobile computing end point management,” he said. “You will see this MDM solution evolve to that stage.”

Meanwhile, a speedy release cycle will be required to compete with rival manufacturers, Heins said. Samsung this week announced a new Galaxy S smartphone about 12 months after the last.

“The life cycle is pretty much the same in the industry and ... innovation is dramatically fast in our industry,” Heins said.

“Part of the design [of BlackBerry 10] was to be able to upgrade it in way shorter cycles than we normally do.”

Heins would not say whether a new BlackBerry tablet is in development, but explained his approach to that form factor were there to be one.

“A tablet in my view is a very difficult business,” he said. “If I build a tablet, I will not build it for the hardware purpose... I will do this around a service ... value proposition.”

“We are running a few projects” to assess “how we can take it to the next stage and not just be another tablet.”

Follow Adam Bender on Twitter: @WatchAdam

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU, or take part in the Computerworld conversation on LinkedIn: Computerworld Australia

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