BlackBerry’s ousted CEO had a plan to save the company — and it didn’t involve new phones

Blackberry manWhen the Associated Press misinterpreted RIM’s newly appointed chief executive Thorsten Heins in saying, “We believe BlackBerry cannot succeed if we tried to be everybody’s darling and all things to all people. Therefore, we plan to build on our strength,” the quote was immediately pounced on by the broad media as a capitulation — RIM had tried in vain to make inroads to the consumer market with its BlackBerry smartphones and tablet, and it was ready to admit defeat, to regroup, to cut its losses. It was determined not to be General Custer at Little Bighorn — it would know when to quit. Headlines such as “BlackBerry maker RIM Gives Up On Consumer Market,” and “Rim says it is pulling out of the consumer market,” flooded the Internet.

The reality is that RIM isn’t ready to give up on consumers just yet. The morning after Heins’ comments, Alec Saunders, RIM’s vice-president for developer relations, tweeted, “remarks were wrongly interpreted. We are not leaving the consumer market.”

Why then was the world so ready to accept RIM’s consumer surrender, based on the offhand remarks of a new CEO? Because we expected it.

It is in fact Heins’ full-speed ahead in the face of staggering competition that is so surprising, not that RIM may have been close to giving up on the consumer market altogether. But new information reveals that the company may have indeed been very close to doing just that.

Bold decisions

Reuters reported yesterday in an exclusive that prior to stepping down, former co-chief executive Jim Balsillie had an idea that would have fundamentally changed RIM — and that it may have lead to his resignation. Sources with direct knowledge of the plan told Reuters that Balsillie had entered into high-level talks with wireless carriers in North America to begin allowing devices other than the BlackBerry to use RIM’s famed network — a decision that would have altered the long-standing BlackBerry-only rule, immediately destroying the BlackBerry’s exclusivity, but in turn capitalizing on the only aspect of RIM’s business that still makes a healthy profit.

As Reuters reported, “The plan would have let the carriers use the RIM network to offer inexpensive data plans, limited to social media and instant messaging, to entice low-tier customers to upgrade from no-frills phones to smartphones.”

And because RIM hosts its own data centers in which carriers pay to push their wireless traffic through, it would have also allowed other devices to benefit from RIM’s world-class security encryption and network efficiency. RIM’s network services currently generate around $1 billion a quarter, as opposed to the BlackBerry hardware line, which Reuters reports “may have lost money” last year.

But the plans lead to infighting at the top of RIM’s corporate chain — perhaps between Basillie and Mike Lazaridis, RIM’s founder and other co-CEO, who currently maintains a board seat and is still actively involved in the company. The plans were eventually killed in favor of increased focus on next-generation handset hardware and software.

Hard road ahead

RIM has struggled to keep up with rivals such as Apple and Google as corporations have grown more willing to adopt those systems in direct opposition to BlackBerry, a longtime corporate favorite. RIM has been unable to make up for the losses in the consumer market. As of February, RIM’s market share in smartphones declined 3.2 percent from a month prior, representing just 13.4 percent of all devices, according to comScore — compare that to Android’s 50.1 percent and Apple’s 30.2 percent. Even Microsoft’s less than 2 year old Windows Phone Series now commands almost 4 percent of the market.

RIM has bet the future on its new BlackBerry 10 operating system, and has been actively courting developers, planning to release prototype phones to select app makers in May. But leaked screenshots of the new OS hint at a derivative system akin to a Windows Phone/Android mash-up — not exactly a revolutionary leap in smartphone interfaces. If you look at the way the smartphone market has coalesced around a few platforms in recent years, RIM’s future looks bleak. Apple has its iPhone, with a cachet, aesthetic, and enormous app market that makes it a singular device. Google has Android, a free OS with massive market penetration and the conviction of top-selling device makers — Samsung, Motorola, HTC, among others. Microsoft has virtually endless amounts of cash to throw at its fledgling Windows Phone, and its partnership with Nokia is already paying fairly stunning dividends in the Lumia 900 — not to mention that phone’s rock-bottom price of $99. With a RIM now recommitted to the competition for consumer handset love, where exactly does it see room for BlackBerry?

Movies & TV

Disney completes its $71.3 billion purchase of 21st Century Fox

Now that Walt Disney Company has closed its $71.3 billion purchase of 21st Century Fox's movie and television assets, what does this future hold for franchises like X-Men, the Fantastic Four, The Simpsons, and the rest?

Get over here! All the details on next week’s Mortal Kombat 11 closed beta

Mortal Kombat 11 will hold its closed beta period from March 28 through March 31, giving those who pre-ordered the game the chance to check it out prior to its official launch in April.

Here's where you can pre-order the Moto G7 Power and its massive battery

After a number of leaks and rumors, the Motorola Moto G7, Moto G7 Play, and Moto G7 Power are finally here. The devices represent quite a spec bump over the previous-generation Moto G6 phones, yet still come at a reasonable price.

Samsung’s working on an invisible camera that hides behind a phone’s screen

Samsung envisions an "invisible" camera that hides behind a phone's screen, without any compromise on the way it operates, replacing the current hole-punch camera seen on the Galaxy S10.

Google hit with another fine by the EU, this time for $1.7 billion

Google has been fined for the third time by the EU, this time for breaching antitrust laws by requiring third-party websites using its search function to prioritize its ads over competitors.

Get your hands (and ears) on Apple’s new AirPods — here’s where to find them

Apple's new AirPods with wireless charging are the latest version of the much-loved wireless earbuds. Unfortunately, they aren't widely available yet. Here's where you can find them right now, and where they will show up soon.
Product Review

There’s almost nothing bad to say about the Mi Mix 3, but you still shouldn’t buy it

The Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 is good-looking, really well made, packed with features, and is a powerful, modern, desirable smartphone. But you probably shouldn’t buy it. Why? Nothing wrong with the device itself, but Xiaomi itself is mostly to…

You can now use the innovative Red Hydrogen One on Google Fi

The Red Hydrogen One was first announced in 2017 and has been delayed a few times since then. Now, the Red Hydrogen One is finally available, featuring a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, 6GB of RAM, and 128GB of storage.

Apple’s AirPower wireless charging mat may be coming soon

At its September event in 2017, Apple unveiled the AirPower, a new wireless charging mat that will allow you to charge multiple devices at one time. It has not yet been released. Here's everything we know about the device so far.

The best Apple AirPods alternatives for Android, Windows, and iOS devices

Apple AirPods might be new and improved, but they aren't the only game in town. Other makers are offering their own truly wireless earbuds, with attractive features. These are the best AirPod alternatives on the market today.

Here are 20 portable tech gadgets you’ll want to use every day

If you're looking for portable tech to keep you charged up while on the go (or for some great small gift ideas), we've rounded up 20 must-have gadgets. You'll find everything from a mini gaming controller to a folding Bluetooth keyboard.

The latest Google Doodle lets you create Bach-like music of your own

Google is celebrating the life of German composer Johann Sebastian Bach, and to that end the company has released a new Google Doodle that allows you to create Bach-like melodies and harmonies of your own.

Amazon’s new Kindle has an adjustable light and costs less than $100

Amazon has taken the wraps off of a new Kindle model, which boasts a number of great features and comes at a very affordable price. Perhaps the best thing about the new Kindle is that the device has an adjustable.

Apple iPad Air vs. iPad (2018): Which Apple tablet is right for you?

The new iPad Air replaces the 10.5-inch iPad Pro, but it doesn't pack quite the same punch. It is a fair bit cheaper, starting at $500, but it's a lot more expensive than Apple's 9.7-inch iPad which starts at $330. If you're shopping for…