Tomorrow, co-CEO Mike Lazaridis will give a general keynote, where we expect him to talk about the 9650, 9100 and hopefully a little about BlackBerry 6 and the WebKit browser. It’s going to be a great session and we’ll have coverage from the ground to report.
Today, Mike Lazaridis gave an amazing speech to analysts during Capital Markets about how far the company has come and where the platform’s strength’s lie. To be honest, as someone who writes about BlackBerry every single day, I’ve had my fair share of doubts and frustrations with the platform. Lazaridis’ speech did a lot for my enthusiasm and optimism about the platform, and after reading this summary/impressions post, I think you’ll feel the same.
To start off the speech, Mike L gave us a general sense for the smartphone industry and where it stands today. Compared to other major purchases, the smartphone is very reasonable. It offers a lot of value to the user, and it’s incredible personal. There is truly something special about it. For RIM, smartphones are more than just features. It’s about experiences. Experiences which are fully integrated and work well under tough conditions.
Here are some quick facts you may find interesting, and really paint a picture of where RIM sits today:
- It’s exciting to know RIM has sold over 90 million BlackBerrys.
- 37 million devices sold in the last year.
- 10.5 million in the last quarter.
- Over 40 million devices are connected to the BlackBerry service; signed up and locked to the carriers.
- Over 250k registered app developers.
- Over 3.8 million downloads of the developer tools and upgrades.
- Over 250k servers around the world.
- Over 120k servers in North America alone.
- 14,000 global employees.
- Nearly a million App World downloads a day.
Consider that number for a second: over 1 million downloads per day. Considering App World has 6500 apps and themes, this means that each is generating an average of 150 downloads per day. I bet you the Apple App Store isn’t anywhere close to that number. Incredible, isn’t it?
The product that RIM manufactures is truly fantastic. What we have seen recently isn’t even close to what RIM has in the over though. These are products years in the making and we’re not even seeing the stuff RIM has been working on a year ago.
Growth for BlackBerry is not linear, it’s exponential. Much of this growth is due to a successful product in North America, but that doesn’t explain the full picture. North America is a tech savvy market but it’s important to realize that North America is a little over 7 percent of the total smartphone market. RIM is seeing tremendous positive feedback globally, due to their ability to cater to a wide range of price points, plans, tiered services, and carrier partners, and this success will propel them to global success. Think about that: global success for a smartphone company and the power they can wield when they reach hundreds of millions of users world wide.
Something I found a little unsettling was the degree to which Mike L felt he had to address the iPhone. Of course he would never explicitly mention the iPhone, but when he says things like “we’ve had seamless multitasking since the beginning” and “I still get asked when multitasking is coming to BlackBerry”, he’s obviously talking about the iPhone. Of course, BlackBerry has been doing multitasking for ages, and any power smartphone user knows this. Perhaps instead of speaking to such an obvious advantage, I think Mike L could have done well by addressing the elephant in the room: Android. Maybe the analysts are to blame because he knows that iPhone is a hot topic with them. In the end, the major competitive advantage, relative to the other smartphones, was really the reliability and performance of these devices. Mike spoke a lot about the work they’ve done in the 3G stack that nobody knows about in terms of battery, connectivity and experience.
It’s pretty incredible to think of the work that goes in to running a global smartphone company. It’s easy to take it for granted as a user, but when you put out the number of devices RIM manufactures, multiplied by the number of carriers, combined with running 2 technologies on one device (worldphones): the certification process is staggering. With over 100 carriers, you absolutely must own the certification labs, which RIM has running sometimes 24/7.
It was pretty interesting to hear Mike L say that App World comes preloaded on both the 9650 and the Pearl 3G. We’re going to dig deeper with this issue while at WES, but it sounds like they’ve come to an agreement with the carriers. It’s possible that Sprint, Rogers and Verizon will all sign on to App World, but we’re going to have to get more clarification on this one.
The big question on everyone’s mind is where the OS is heading, and what we can expect from OS 6 aka BlackBerry 6. Mike L took the time to shed some light on this as well, saying RIM recognizes that as screens get larger and everything gets faster, they simply couldn’t keep going with a Java-based rendering system. The acquisition of Torch gave them the last piece of the puzzle. The WebKit engine is wrapped in the BlackBerry protocol, so it keeps its efficiency, but now they have a faster experience. It’s the rendering engine that allows you to manipulate data, pan, zoom, and go to full websites, but it’s also a key feature for the UI experience. This addresses many of the questions about whether the WebKit browser will be a standalone client – it won’t. Users will have to upgrade to BlackBerry 6, and it sounds like they’re going to try and be as backwards compatible as possible. My guess is that they won’t do such a good job, and it may turn out that only 9700 devices and later will be BlackBerry 6 compatible. Mike L also showed a demo presentation of OS 6, and we have yet to actually see it. We’re hoping he’ll show this demo tomorrow morning, and if so we’ll have it for you.
One thing we really have to take away from Mike Lazaridis’ speech about BlackBerry 6, is that is sounds more like a theme, and less like an OS update. RIM has done this before with Precision and Zen, and it sounds like BblackBerry 6 might be a similar shift. In the end, the intent is for all devices to run BlackBerry 6 but it probably won’t happen. You have to get certified which takes a long time, and it’s not all ready. They still have trackwheel devices out there. RIM will try and do their best, and in the end it’s all about fixing the UI and taking the stuff users love, and get the stuff they don’t want out of the way.
Another fascinating part of Mike Lazaridis’ speech was the discussion around the QNX acquisition. QNX seems to be at first, a $200M acquisition of a company focused on a peripheral – the car. When we first read about the acquisition, our initial thought was “cool, car integration. I guess that’s useful.” Mike L. addressed this by putting the discussion in an interesting light: what QNX really gives is access and supreme integration into the 2 largest BlackBerry peripherals you can imagine – the car and home. You’ve seen the work RIM has done with BMW and Lexus, but that takes a lot of work. Everywhere they went, the car companies they were working with already had QNX. They also realized that QNX were moving into home automation. Well, this acquisition not only puts them in both these markets, but it also provides support for the OS. RIM will be taking the best of the QNX operating system, and combining it with the BlackBerry OS, to make something that is fully integrated into your life. Imagine the possibilities of a powerful BlackBerry smartphone, fully integrated into every facet of your daily life.
The potential for BlackBerry is unparalleled, and the coming years are going to prove it.