ORLANDO: When Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie were running Research In Motion, BlackBerry World was a chest-thumping celebration of RIM’s successes and a showcase for the innovations that would assure its continued dominance.
Their successor Thorsten Heins will preside over a very different event.
Five months after replacing the longstanding co-CEOs, Heins desperately needs more time to right the now-struggling company and he likely has next to nothing concrete to offer his restless audience in terms of new products and services.
In late March, Heins embarked on a strategic review of the Canadian smartphone maker’s direction in an effort to reverse the growing power of Apple Inc and Google Inc’s Android, and to thwart a budding Microsoft/Nokia resurgence.
The company is working furiously to get a next-generation lineup of smartphones on sale, while also seeking licensing deals, partnerships and cost savings of $1 billion this year.
Unless Heins has a big surprise up his sleeve at this year’s BlackBerry World, held next week in Orlando, Florida, analysts expect him to focus on products and services already in market. Most of them have so far fa iled to capture the imagination of investors or consumers.
“It’s too early in RIM’s strategic review process to announce one particular strategy,” IDC analyst Kevin Restivo said. “However, Heins would be wise to provide any kind of news to help staunch the bleeding.”
Restivo expects RIM to tout any progress it’s made in attracting developers and possibly announce a PlayBook that connects to cellular networks. That would make the 7-inch tablet more portable and give carriers an incentive to promote the device.
BlackBerry World – which brings together several thousand RIM partners and customers – was once a must for financial analysts. But this year few are making the trip, in part because RIM has broken with tradition by cancelling a specific presentation for them. Instead it delayed the briefing until the next-generation BlackBerry 10s are on sale, sometime later this year.
In the year since RIM’s last Orlando conference, the company has issued a string of disappointing financial results, suffered an embarrassing global network outage and watched its share price tumble by 75 percent.
Lazaridis and Balsillie quit under pressure in late January, replaced by Heins, a former Siemens AG executive who ran RIM’s hardware business for several years.
“Expectations are so low I don’t think it’s possible to disappoint investors,” said National Bank Financial analyst Kris Thompson. “The conference isn’t for investors anyway; it’s for customers, developers and partners.”
Thompson said RIM may use the event to introduce a marketing chief, which he said was long overdue. RIM is also seeking a chief operating officer.
“The company needs to display confidence and staying power at the show to keep this constituency loyal until the BlackBerry 10 smartphones are launched,” he said.
Other RIM watchers privately pointed to subdued comments from a major investor and new board member last week as a hint not to expect much. Prem Watsa, who joined RIM’s board in January’s reshuffle, said that a turnaround could take three to five years.