By: David Friend The Canadian Press, Published on Fri Mar 29 2013
WATERLOO, ONT.—BlackBerry chief executive Thorsten Heins plans to unveil a broader array of new smartphones this year, catering to markets around the world, as the company works to recoup a stronger position with devices for more than just business users.
As competitors like Apple and Samsung prepare their next round of attacks in the highly competitive industry, with new models expected later this year, Heins is aware that BlackBerry will need to respond with more than just the pair of new phones it has announced so far.
“In order to stay relevant, we have to build a portfolio,” he said in an interview with The Canadian Press.
“We will bring it out at the moment when we can expect the biggest market attention for these products.”
Heins is thinking big these days, but he’s also well aware of the stumbles that BlackBerry has faced in the past. It’s former leaders famously let innovation fall by the wayside, as competitors surged ahead.
As he talks about the future, Heins sits among the smartphones that built the BlackBerry name. The company is preparing to open the BlackBerry Experience Centre at its Waterloo, Ont.-based headquarters where it will celebrate the company’s roots while showcasing the new line of products.
On the walls of the museum of sorts, which officially opens to the public in April, a timeline reminds visitors of the “history” of the BlackBerry and the devices that helped build the company to its once-dominant position. While Heins poses for photos, he’s careful not to stand beneath the “History” sign on the wall, a public relations nightmare for a company trying to prove it’s still a serious competitor in the smartphone race.
Certainly, BlackBerry isn’t out of weeds yet, but Heins has helped the company come a long way since he took the top position in January 2012 and navigated through the make-or-break product launch of BlackBerry 10.
In March, the BlackBerry Z10 touchscreen smartphone arrived in U.S. stores, often considered its most crucial market. But Heins isn’t sitting on the sidelines tallying sales.
Instead, he’s moving ahead with a BlackBerry product line that will have three tiers: smartphones for high end users, as well as variations that sell at mid- and “entry-level” prices.
The lower-priced models will also use the BlackBerry 10 operating system, but will be designed with markets like India and Indonesia in mind. It’s an intricate shift that involves gradually encouraging its loyal users in emerging markets to make the switch to its new operating system, while recognizing it’s not going to happen overnight — and in some cases perhaps not for years.
In the meantime, the company will release another round of BlackBerry 7 models in some countries, which continue to use the old operating system.
Heins doesn’t want to miss out on potential sales by ignoring one of its most loyal segments in countries where buying a low-priced smartphone is sometimes the only reasonable option for consumers.
“We want to give them a good BlackBerry experience. So this is where probably another BlackBerry 7 product in that range makes a lot of sense,” he said.
“We’re not excluding those markets from BlackBerry 10 because of us wanting to sell BlackBerry 7. You will see both in coexistence for awhile in those markets.”
Creating a lower-priced smartphone is the next frontier for competitors like Apple and Samsung, who have a stronghold in North America and Europe. BlackBerry already has a formidable position in emerging phone markets like Nigeria, where it is ranked as the No. 1 smartphone.
The rollout of the new wave of smartphones will begin sometime between September and November with a “mid-tier” priced model of both the touchscreen and keypad, or QWERTY, phones. Details and dates haven’t been announced.
“Then we are working on something exciting for the holiday season,” Heins said.