I interviewed Francois Mahieu ,BlackBerry’s VP Global Product Management Smartphone Business last year. He was back in Dubai and I was given the opportunity to have a quick chat with him over where BlackBerry is heading and what to expect this year.
Tell us a little bit about your current role at BlackBerry
I look after the local portfolio concepts. My job is to basically build the roadmap of devices, for the future to be as exciting as possible. And we’ve got some exciting things coming for sure. On the device side, Mobile World Congress was our first opportunity to go out in the market and explain what we were doing. And the reason why I’m here in the region is to basically follow up on that and meet retailers and distributers to explain our strategy.
The key announcement in Barcelona was for the Z3. Beyond the fact that it’s a very good phone, the message here from John Chen is that he really wanted to show that he is a man of his word and that he is committed. When he took on the company early December he pre-empted the partnership with Foxconn and the phone has already arrived in the market. It’s basically taken us less than 5 months to launch the phone together with Foxconn. That’s a very important thing for us.
The second thing is that we are very committed to concepts. John Chen also announced the Blackberry Classic, which is going to be a phone which brings back the core elements of the experience that customers used and loved about BlackBerry. I have travelled around the world with it and our partners are very excited with this phone and we are getting a huge interest for it.
How many products to you expect to release this year?
I won’t give you an exact number but you can see the spark in my eye. There are exciting things coming that’s for sure. At the moment we’ve announced Z3 and Classic. John has also said that one of our core differentiators is a great keyboard so obviously this is something that we are working on. We’re very committed to handsets and it’s a very changing market place that’s also very competitive. Very clearly here in Dubai in particular- you can see the number of brands just looking around.
The market is getting more and more fragmented and in that context I’m quite excited to lead the team. Blackberry has got some major assets and we’re not after every consumer in the market place. What makes the experience of BlackBerry is unique and the joy of owning a Blackberry is something special. And in that marketplace where everybody has gone quite broad I think owning a BlackBerry means something.
So what makes the BlackBerry special?
We are not only working on rebuilding the firm but also to communicate that experience of BlackBerry. We want to go back to our roots- keyboard is one of them. It started the productivity trend. Great battery life is another example of where we can win. But there are also a number of things that you remember your BlackBerry for- the productivity aspects are definitely the heart of it; there’s a feeling that if we get this (the Classic) right we’re gonna win back the heart of the customers.
We think there are other things that are also becoming the top agenda for consumers and enterprises. Security is one of them. In Barcelona, we noticed that across the industry, there is a huge amount of interest in security and privacy. Then you have the core area of communication. I think a great signal on your phone is important such as when you’re in an elevator or when your plane lands and it’s the first phone to connect. The quality of the voice applications across the board- generally anything that makes your business life easy should run with Blackberry.
Again we’re not after every consumer- we’re mainly after the professional. And the mobile professional is one looking after their security, their productivity and the core communication. And that whole element of collaboration and communicating that BBM is bringing. If you talk about the ownership of a BlackBerry and why it’s so great, it’s that collection of little things that makes the entire experience fun. We are still a different phone with a different experience.
You mentioned security- do you think that a BlackBerry is still the most secured phone?
I don’t know if perfect security exists but what we know is the experts in security buy BlackBerry. Pretty much all, in fact 9 out of 10, ministries of defence and any big federal organisation; in the United States or in France or Australia or Germany use BlackBerry today.
But that is changing- they are evaluating Android as well
I think all of them are simply weighing the pros and cons of moving to other solutions and when they consider the benefits of BlackBerry they see that a BlackBerry is really secure and they trust its solutions. Ten years ago when they made their first choice, we were probably the only choice. But even today 9 out of 10 are looking at renewing that choice with BlackBerry. We have to accept that we have a lot of competition that we did not have years ago so it’s on us to improve the way we communicate and make great phones, so you don’t have to compromise between having great security and a great phone.
Can you tell us about some of the innovations in the smartphone industry that are taking place?
There’s no doubt that the technology curve has plateaued. In fact many reports are stating that people have been a bit underwhelmed by the industry and the technology available of late. So really on the whole experience front it’s been less about giving key features and much more about productivity and communication. On the hardware I think there’s a few good trends that I think we’re very good at, and some of them I feel we need to continuously improve on. Things that I am observing are the quality of material and that people expect great phones that look nice and make a statement.
Beyond simple features like megapixels which, to a large degree, nobody really cares about, the key element is if your phone is giving you a sense that makes a statement about who you are. A professional who cares about getting things done; that you’re proud to put your phone on the table and that it looks nice. So that sort of sentiment that that you own a piece of technology that makes a statement about you is very important.
Is there a phone out there that you think, I wish Blackberry had made that phone?
I’m a bit biased because I’ve been using BlackBerry for some time and I still believe that we make great phones. So I would pick a Blackberry because I’m passionately in love with BlackBerry. What is interesting though is some competitors have emerged better than others to really make progress on that experience. I think HTC is one of them. What I like about this industry is that there’s a number of small players and we are one of them that are the true heartbeat of the industry by challenging the envelope.