Over the past two years, BlackBerry has seen its sales, profit and stock price plunge with the declining popularity of its eponymous phones.
But the erstwhile Research In Motion is hoping to turn things around. Earlier this week, it unveiled a new line of smartphones designed to better compete with Android devices and Apple's (AAPL) iPhones. In a big departure, the first BlackBerry 10 device won't include the kind of physical keyboard for which the company is known.
At the Consumer Electronics Show last month, Richard Piasentin, who manages BlackBerry's U.S. business as a company vice president, spoke with this newspaper about the company's prospects. This is an edited transcript of the interview.
Q What features of the new phones will set them apart from the competition?
A We're kind of going back to our roots. BlackBerry was born on the idea that we save people seconds a day, no matter what they're doing, whether it was for work or personal. We're doing that again. We're trying to make it so that the most important information is presented to you in a way that gets you in and out as quickly as possible.
Q BlackBerry devices have long focused on communications and the new phones are no different. But with smartphone owners these days spending much more time using apps or Web surfing than making calls or sending messages, isn't BlackBerry's focus out of step with the market?
A BlackBerry people really kind of want to replicate their desktop experience and how they interact with their desktop. To your point, they're doing more than just communicating. We completely embrace that. That is part of our mobile computing vision, and we are providing an infrastructure that enables us to capitalize on it.
Q One of the arguments that BlackBerry executives have made for why the new phones and operating system will succeed is that Android and Apple's iOS are aging platforms, and that consumers crave something new and different. But that's the same case Microsoft made two years ago when it came out with Windows Phone 7, and they've gotten no traction in the market. Why is RIM going to do any better than Microsoft did?
A We still hold mindshare with the retail sales representatives that are communicating to the end user that's making a buying decision. We're fully engaged with the carriers. They're giving us full access to their retail reps to train them on the value proposition with BlackBerry 10. And we feel very confident that that value proposition can be expressed very quickly. We can get to that "Wow, that's neat!" very easily.
Q Why isn't it too late for this to be launching?
A It's a great question, and if I had a crystal ball, I could tell you exactly what's going to happen in the future. But obviously I don't. What I can talk about is the reaction that I'm getting from my clients.
We went to our top enterprise clients, and we have them deploying our BlackBerry Enterprise Server 10 in their businesses, as well as the new BlackBerry 10 devices. And the feedback that we have gotten from those enterprise clients is phenomenal.
Ultimately, it will be the joint support of our carriers and our enterprises that's going to make us successful. Every single client I talk to wants to see BlackBerry successful, and I think that's a powerful force, and it gives me confidence that it's not too late.
Q The carriers have been hoping for a third platform to emerge for a while now, but all consumers seem to want to buy are Android devices and iPhones. So, isn't the key audience here consumers and not carriers or enterprises?
A A corollary question is, "If you're the keyboard king, why are you releasing a touch-screen device first?" That's a legitimate question for you to ask. And it's because we're very aware of that.
The consumer in the U.S. has spoken very loudly that a full-screen touch experience is how they want to have their personal-plus-productivity device. We can't be successful independently in enterprise without a consumer value proposition. We think we have one.
Contact Troy Wolverton at 408-840-4285. Follow him at Twitter.com/troywolv.
Position: Vice president and managing director of U.S. sales, marketing and operations for BlackBerry
Previous jobs: Global vice president, commercial operations at Research In Motion; Global vice president, commercial operations and sales transformation at Nortel
Education: Honors degree in electrical engineering, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario
Family: Married; two sons, ages 14 and 7, and one daughter, 12
Residence: Waterloo, Ontario, and New York, N.Y.
about Richard Piasentin
1. Plays first-person-shooter video games.
2. Wears red shoes on Fridays.
3. Enjoys krav maga, an Israeli martial art
4. Favorite city is San Francisco.
5. If he could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, it would be Leonardo da Vinci