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BlackBerry Enterprise chief: Yes, we did leave users behind

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Servers, devices, emerging markets

"Across the world, Ingram Micro, Brightstar, these are, globally speaking, important channels for us. Then there are regional players focussed on a particularly country or subset of countries. We’ve had a lot of push on that. We’re doing some rebalancing in BlackBerry to ensure our sales forces is not some homogenous thing."

“We left a lot of those people behind in the original migration”

BlackBerry's turnaround team also steered its server strategy in a new direction, albeit not as dramatically. Two years ago BES10 was geared around MDM. With BES12, by contrast, BlackBerry recognises that MDM is commoditised. Sims has been here before:

"Years and years ago, I worked for Tandem. And for years Tandem corned the market in fault-tolerant computing. Then everyone released products and called them fault-tolerant. They were never as good as Tandems, but it created a grey area in the market. Today a number of companies say they have an MDM platform - and there’s enough noise there you can’t really distinguish one from another. That battlefield is over."

So if not MDM, how do you differentiate it?

"It's not about managing the device per se, but what goes on on it. Managing the apps, the data profiles, and doing it all in sophisticated ways that bring in location, time of day, time of week – things like that."

BlackBerry is also extending this capability beyond the giant enterprise and public sector deployments to cloud-based offerings sold through mobile operators. The idea, says Sims, is that "multi-tenancy" (as cloud jargon insists we call it) allows the goodies to be usaed by SMEs – although the multi-tenant cloud version of BES12 isn't quite here yet.

"With BES12 we do envisage BlackBerry hosting BES, but also operators and other partners hosting it as well, and reselling the services. Most of the engineering work around the multi-tenant cloud version has gone around the user interface. It's all about the UI. The code behind the scenes is almost identical."

BES12 will offer two admin UIs, a simple and a sophisticated version: "A small law firm, a group of accountants or consultants can selected the dumbed down interface and hide the one they don't care about."

The Big Bang BlackBerrys sucked

And the new Berries themselves? For Sims, they're a correction.

"People are hanging on to their old devices; we left a lot of those people behind in the original migration to BB10. The majority are still there.

"We can see our network - we can see how many older BlackBerrys there are out there. They're in the tens of millions: people who are hanging onto their Bolds, some of them holding them together with tape!"

Now, like the Marines, they're coming to rescue them.

"Classic brings people back to where they should have been. It's giving them some familiarity… I’ve been a BB user since 1998. I remember what it was like. It was a horrendous browsing experience and the app [environment] as well [sic]. The new operating system is a lot more mature now than it was at launch. It’s more feature-rich and solid."

And it runs Android very well – something totally unexpected, thanks to this bit of wizardry. The Playbook and first cut of BB10 had an Android run-time, but today, BB10 executes Android apps native ARM extensions. This allows it far greater compatibility, and allows .APK executables to be installed "in place".

Performance, at least on the Passport, is excellent. But the surprise ecosystem "fix" doesn't mean BlackBerry is going to repeat the catastrophic consumer push of 2013.

"It's tough at the high end, as you say. But if you look at the low end of the market, it’s tough there too: it has been consumed by low end Android phones made in China. It’s going to be hard for anyone to make money at the low end. We have our Z3 device that's wrongly reported to be a 'low end device' - but since we sell it in emerging markets at $175 or so, that’s actually a high end device in those markets. It's going after the professional user in those markets."

So why stay in the devices game at all?

"Devices are important to our customers. Our objective is to make money in devices. that doesn’t mean we need to make a lot of money. Apple makes money not so much just because of the device, but because of the full ecosystem.

"Our Foxconn relationship is geared towards that."

And to critics who say the Classic is expensive? It popped up last week at Carphone Warehouse at £329.99 SIM free, but contains the same innards as the two-year old Q10.

"If you look at the full package people get with BB - not just the hardware, the security, we think it’s a well priced device. We know it is - we know there’s demand there. And it’s generally not consumer demand, it’s generally enterprise-driven demand."

Perhaps the turnaround artistes biggest achievement is that 'BlackBerry is Dead' talk has ceased.

"I would say when we came in as part of the transformation team - the question ’Should BB be part of my strategy?’ was certainly a question people were asking. But over the course of the past several quarters, we’ve shown the company has a long term feature - we’ve said it’s a multiyear path, it’s not a 12-month exercise.

"We’ve done quite well so far in terms of financial discipline, and this year we’ve concerned about getting the product portfolio right. We still think it’s bumpy. We’re not declaring any victory yet. But next year for us is all about growth. Now we have to grow the company again." ®

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