The iPhone? Undoubtedly a very nice product, but there is no virtual substitute for a real keyboard, reckons RIM CEO Mike Lazaridis: "Try typing a web key on a touch screen on an iPhone, that's a real challenge. You cannot see what you type."
Lazaridis told European reporters in Waterloo, Canada last week, that he isn't too impressed with Apple's iPhone and it won't be a threat to the success of BlackBerry's smart phone (with over 10.5 million users).* see Bootnote.
"The iPhone has severe limitations when it comes to effortless typing. Of course you have more screen space, with more artistic interactions, but that's not enough. We've seen this before when Palm tried virtual keyboards. When they launched the Treo they licensed our keyboard."
However, Lazaridis is extremely grateful to Apple for hyping its iPhone. "Apple undeniably accelerated the drive to smart phones. It educated the consumer to the benefits of these types of phones. We saw our sales go up with AT&T after the iPhone came out."
Contrary to popular belief, RIM isn't all about the business gadgets, the company said last week. Sure, it unveiled its BlackBerry Professional Software aimed at smaller organisations that allows users to access email, internet and intranet applications on the go. It is still by far the most popular wireless communication device for the enterprise, and it recently announced a tie-in with Facebook to bring the social (business) networking site to BlackBerrys.
But BlackBerry users are also consumers who love to have the same features in consumer flavoured devices, such as RIM's new Pearl model, which launched last year. "We will always work from the present status of the BlackBerry in terms of reliability and security, because that is what our users expect," Lazaridis explained.
"It is like building high end cars. The top manufacturers make their present models a little better every year, but when they change it too much, that's when they have a problem. We want every business to have a BlackBerry, because it gives business people command and control. However, the consumer space is a big market, which we simply cannot ignore."
RIM co-CEO Jim Balsillie said RIM isn't just about handsets - it's about services too. "Our software makes operators profitable. But it took us a lot of effort to get there. We hardened the system for the enterprise. It is extremely difficult to offer an aggressively priced product in the consumer space with all the care systems implemented. However, that is what we managed to do, and so we can offer the same quality and reliability in the consumer area."
Balsillie denies the shift in focus is due to increased competition of companies such as Microsoft, which also started to offer push email, a feature which made the BlackBerry famous.
"Windows Mobile isn't that big a competitor," he said. "They are a modest force to RIM. Windows Mobile has had a dozen iterations in the last 10 years, because nobody is bigger than gravity. Microsoft should be working at services, not at distributed PCs, which is what Windows Mobile actually still is."
And Microsoft isn't even offering real push email, Lazaridis added. "It is a notification of a full synchronisation over a VPN session. Which still drains the battery. Gartner recently put out a report which recommended that companies disable direct push when they roam abroad because of its high cost. This is what we do differently at RIM: We only send data when it is changed."
Lazaridis said the BlackBerry still has room for growth. "We are the number eight manufacturer of hand sets in the world. There is so much opportunity for us."
Balsillie said: "Apple has come forward with a unique strategy - they have carriers propose to be their partner, they completely reversed the relationship to have full product management and full control over the pricing - but in the end we believe users want choice."
Bootnote: Apologies, this originally read "over 20 million users" - in fact there are 10.5m Blackberry subscribers and the company has sold 20m handsets in total.®