Francois Mahieu, BlackBerry’s VP Global Product Management was recently in Dubai and I had the opportunity of meeting with him at the BlackBerry office in Dubai and asking him a few questions about what is happening at BlackBerry.
How tough has the transition from OS7 to OS10 been for BlackBerry in terms of devices and applications?
We were well prepared. We launched BlackBerry 10 back in January this year so the platform has been available now just over six months and in the Middle East it has been a great success- particularly in the UAE. We have picked the Middle East as a key region to launch our products. The Q5 was the first in the world to be launched in Dubai and it is also the first time that we launched such a mass-market product here. We had also launched the Porsche design phone here last year but of course the target market for that was a bit smaller than the BlackBerry 10 platform.
There is still a very healthy demand for our BlackBerry 9220 and 9320. In fact we just repositioned the pricing of these products so the BlackBerry 9220 is now available in Saudi Arabia for as low as 469 Riyal (US$ 125) which is considerably cheaper than it has ever been. The BlackBerry OS7 is a great platform and we are transitioning away from it to BlackBerry 10 but it remains a key demand driver- particularly for future phone upgraders and from that prospective, with the new pricing, I think we can drive great success for both the BB7 and BB10 in the Middle East.
When do you think we can expect to see a BB10 device at similar (lower) price levels?
I’m not going to give you specifics in terms of timing but I hope with the Q5 they have found already something that many can afford.
When you launched the Z10, it was a full touch device. Then came the Q10 and Q5 which are QWERTY devices. Where do you see the future of BlackBerry? Will you stick to more of a QWERTY kind of device or do you think full touch devices will dominate in a couple of years?
The response depends on the region of the world we’re in. BlackBerry has been extremely successful with physical keyboards in the Middle East and there is no doubt that there is a huge appeal which I think comes down to the culture of community and chatting that obviously the BlackBerry physical keyboard has been vexed up to.
Now as you’ve seen on the Z10, we have worked very hard on making the typing experience and the whole ‘keyboard’ experience on glass to be unparalleled and we are going to continue to invest there so for us the question is less about whether it is a physical keyboard or a virtual keyboard- it is a BlackBerry keyboard. It’s got to be the best quality whenever it is on a full touch or a hybrid product so we invest in both areas.
There was some news on BlackBerry having six devices on the market at any given time. Can you comment on that?
I think the quote was given in a particular context by one of our executive members. We definitely have plans to make the BB10 platform very popular and roll out products quickly. In fact the platform has been out in the market for five months and we already have three BlackBerry 10 devices. If you take a step back on the previous launches of competition whether is a cross of IOS, Android, Windows, I think no one has rolled out a faster ‘portfolio’ than we have.
Again, coming back to my first question regarding the transitionary phase that you have right now converting the BB7 to BB10, how long it will be before BB7 devices are going to be obsolete and BlackBerry is going to stop making BB7 and switch completely to BB10?
It will be awhile. I can tell you that we don’t look at it that way. As a company we are trained to deliver spotless customer experience, delivering great experience and quality year after year. We have more than 72 million users of BlackBerry and I think we are probably the only company where we talk to you about our customer base. Others talk about shipments, they talk about volume but we talk about our customers and the fact we value that they are with us and have been with us a long time. For us we never talk about those ‘Old users’ that are on the BlackBerry OS7- we talk about current customers on all the OSes and that we are going to service them for years to come. We hope they follow us and move on to BlackBerry 10 but we never talk about platform extinction and platform end of life because we consider that it’s our job to service them over the years.