RIM Co-CEO Mike Lazaridis, Live at Dive Into Mobile

Published on December 7, 2010
by Peter Kafka

UPDATE: You can now see video of the entire session.



It wasn’t that long ago that Research in Motion defined smartphones: You either owned a BlackBerry, or your phone wasn’t smart.

Fast-forward to present tense, though, and it’s a different story. Depending on whom you talk to, RIM has either been passed by Apple’s iPhone, or is about to be. Google’s Android is coming up just as fast, too.

RIM is trying to fight back with new phones that look a lot like the competitions’, and by venturing away from phones altogether, with its new PlayBook tablet, too. Will that work? Co-CEO Mike Lazaridis makes his case to Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher.

Live Blog

Mike Lazaridis shows up onstage with a PlayBook.

He’s walking through various apps.

Switching quickly between HD video, different apps, via multitasking.

“This is the way we like to work… it’s as easy as just sliding between the apps that you have loaded”

“Why this size,” asks Kara

At 7 inches, “it’s just the perfect size”, says Mike.

So no plans to make it in a bigger size, asks Walt. [Pause] We have plans for different sizes, says Mike.

Mike walks through multiple platforms, languages that the tablet supports. “This is a complete mobile computing platform.”

Time to sit in the comfy chairs.

University of Waterloo seems to be responsible for most of RIM’s tech, says Mike, who is an alum. “All of this is coming together to set up BlackBerry for the next decade.”

When is this launching? “Tracking first quarter”, says Mike.

Walt asks if PlayBook system will migrate into BlackBerry.

Mike: We’ve wanted to do real mobile computing since we got into this. Have been constrained by tech limits, but … [sort of unclear what he’s saying here]

Walt cuts him off: There’s a growing consensus that BlackBerry is “looking old compared to some of the other platforms.” So: If PlayBook is future of the BlackBerry, when does this OS get there?

Mike: Answers that BlackBerry OS is about multicore products. [?]

Kara Swisher is also confused.

So does the tablet become the phone?

Mike tries another tack, talking about BlackBerry in worldwide markets. In 2G markets, it’s becoming dominant. Also successful in 3G markets.

PlayBook OS allows us “jump into the next decade of mobile computing.”

Walt is confused as well.

Are you saying that you essentially stop paying as much attention to improving BlackBerry phones, and put next generation of tech into tablets?

4:37 pm: Colleague Ina Fried has a post up with more on the PlayBook over at her Mobilized blog..

Mike: “Rather than trying to be all things to all people,” we can present the best product for the market or the situation.

Mike: “Three distinct market areas. This is brand new. This is a paradigm shift.”

The three: Phones, superphones and tablets.

“But it’s not going to happen overnight. And you have to think about this as a global player,” and you can’t abandon markets that don’t have 3G or 4G, and that can’t afford high-end stuff.

“So all of this will be called BlackBerry”? Asks Walt. Yes, says Mike.

Kara: Talk about Apple and Google, please. And do you think BlackBerry lagged? What happened for you?

Mike: “We were focusing on a global market,” and as a result, BlackBerry is becoming No. 1 around the world. Strategy for the future, etc.

Mike: Apple and Android are trying to take a mobile phone OS and upgrade it for a tablet. We’re starting with a bona-fide mobile computing platform for tablets.

Kara: How do you react to all the stories burying you?

Mike: We’ve been at this a long time. Goes on to explain his history.

Walt cuts him off: Great, but “there’s a widespread tangible feeling that you’ve been left behind.”

Kara: I used to love my Blackberry, but I don’t have one anymore. “It was an abandonment of it.”

Walt: “Something has happened” over the years to “your iconic leadership.”

Kara: “Not in Sumatra,” but here, in the United States.

Mike: We’re running a business. We invented the smartphone. We decided to go global.

Walt: So did you decided to chain yourself to lowest common denominator technology?

Mike: Technical discussion of multicores. Says competitors learning how big a market there is. We built our own technology, etc.

Rattles off tech certifications. Walt: “I don’t know what those mean.”

Kara: Back to the competitive landscape, please.

Mike: Focusing on strength–enterprise and security. Military, police, etc. Reliability and security.

Walt: So why are you running all these consumer ads?

Mike: “Because the BlackBerry has crossed over!”

Walt: Here’s the problem with enterprise–plenty of professionals now want to pick their own phones, like Apple and Android.

Mike: “We didn’t go out and try to make BlackBerry a consumer device. It crossed over on its own.”

Kara: Please rank your competition.

Mike: We’re the best, of course!

“We’re all using Flash on our PCs. We’re all using Flash on our Macs. Why wouldn’t we expect Flash to run our tablet….There’s all this content out there. Why would you limit yourself?”

Walt: OK, so that’s a differentiator. But Apple is selling lots of Flash-less tablets.

Mike: “Really early days, Walt.”

Walt: Price? Mike: No answer. And when will the Playbook OS get into phones? ML: No real answer.

Mike’s summary of RIM’s position: “This is a huge market, and we have a front-row seat, and this is all our own intellectual property.”


Can you update us on BlackBerry 6 OS in the market, and how are you doing at attracting developers?

Mike: BlackBerry 6 available on the Torch, the Bold, coming soon to Curves. “It really is the foundation of us going forward on the BlackBerry.”

Q: I own a Torch. The processor is slow, and screen is low-res. I don’t understand connection between this and the PlayBook. “I don’t really understand it….how can you deliver this phone without the best technology available today?”

“Why are you demoting my phone?”

Mike: BlackBerry Torch is a launch vehicle for BlackBerry 6. But you can make that argument in reverse… [sorry, can’t follow what he’s saying]. The next generation of BlackBerry will be great. “I don’t see any dichotomy here. I just see a natural evolution here.”

Q: I really don’t think my Torch is as fast and good as you say it is.

Mike: Seems to be arguing that phones limited by battery issues.

Q: Consumers say security isn’t important, until it is, right?

Mike: Right!

Enterprise clients understand how important security is. But now that consumers are using phones for things like banking, NFC, they are getting much more sensitive to security. “And BlackBerry will lead the way.”

Q: Please talk about Apple and Google getting into enterprise. “Do you feel that as a threat?”

Mike: “I see a thriving industry.” Metaphor about interstate highways and competition. “Today, we have several car manufacturers out there. We’re going to find the same thing with smartphones.”

“When you consider how large the market is today” and then realize that the market is moving into smartphones, “that’s a great recipe for business.”

Q: You bought The Astonishing Tribe. What’s the plan there?

Mike: TAT is an amazing company. Exciting ability to add 150 top designers, developers to BlackBerry as we’re “accelerating into the next century.”

Done. Thanks and good night! Drinks upstairs!

UPDATE: Here’s a highlight reel of Lazaridis’ appearance. We’ll have the entire clip in the days to come:

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