TORONTO – BlackBerry COO Marty Beard doesn’t want you to associate the BlackBerry brand with its phones anymore, but we couldn’t help but ask him about BlackBerry hardware anyways.
Beard, who held executive positions at Oracle Corp., SAP division Sybase, and cloud call centre firm LiveOps Inc. before joining BlackBerry, sat down with ITBusiness.ca to outline the company’s shift to software and the enterprise. BlackBerry’s focus now lies in security, software, and automotive operating systems, rather than hardware.
In part one of our Q/A with Beard, he discusses the relationship BlackBerry has developed with third party hardware manufacturers, and what BlackBerry is looking for in that department.
This is part one in a three-part interview.
The following is an edited transcript.
ITBusiness.ca: How has the shift from designing your own hardware to outsourcing been going? Would BlackBerry consider it a success?
Marty Beard: Frankly, I don’t know yet. We just launched. We have successfully announced the relationships for the globe, the first one out is KeyOne. So we’ll see. The reception at Mobile World Congress seemed quite good. But I’m so out of the business of prognosticating success. The question is, how many of TCL’s buyers will want a keyboard? Care about security? Have a more professional class device? Obviously TCL believes it, otherwise they wouldn’t have done it. They want to have an enterprise class device. We will see, but so far so good, and the partnership has been great.
For us it’s a software relationship and it’s a brand management issue. It’s the BlackBerry brand and we have a really strict control over how the brand is used. From the name, advertisements, all that stuff.
ITBusiness.ca: Let’s talk the DTEK50 and 60. Have the devices’ sales reached the target goals BlackBerry had for them?
Beard: I use a DTEK60 and I love it. Have they reached a certain goal? We haven’t commented yet on numbers.
ITBusiness.ca: The KeyOne smartphone was unveiled this week at Mobile World Congress, and it’s been manufactured and designed by TCL. Can you talk about the decision to bring back the physical keyboard? It seems like the trend has been to decrease the amount of physical buttons on a device. Is nostalgia important here?
Beard: There is that nostalgia part of the market, which is not enough. I can say that our partner has very high confidence due to their own market research, but until it actually gets out there, we won’t know. If all the trends that I’ve been talking about are true, then you can imagine that enterprises would like a device like the KeyOne, but on the other hand, the markets that we are going into, like India and Indonesia, may not have that demand at the enterprise level.
ITBusiness.ca: How do you choose these partners like TCL? Do they come to you with a pitch for a certain device?
Beard: This is where John Chen, our CEO, is very picky. He made a great point which is that in the case of TCL we already knew them from the DTEK50 and DTEK60, and had a very good experience with them and a good relationship with them. They manage the Alcatel brand, so all those devices are all TCL. They had a big desire to get into a more enterprise class space, and that naturally led to that agreement.
Other folks in the world say “ah, Blackberry, yes, we would like to work with them,” and they make a pitch. Then we’ll take a look. Make sure it meets our quality, professional, security, and all those things. So we’ve gone with that process. It’s obviously mutual, but there is a fair amount of demand for our software.
ITBusiness.ca: With third party partners and devices, what sort of aspects are you looking for?
Beard: For example, if someone says we’re going to call it the BlackBerry Apple, then that doesn’t really work. If it doesn’t represent the enterprise and the vision that we are all about. There is a lot of approval that needs to be done, but that being said, this is all new to us. We want to make sure that we are strategically aligned. All comes back to the enterprise, security, etc.
If someone says they want to go after fourteen year olds who spend their life on Snapchat, etc., then that’s cool, but that’s not exactly the direction we are going in.