Research In Motion Ltd. (RIMM)’s Thorsten Heins, five days into his job as chief executive officer, pledged to regain lost ground in the U.S. smartphone market and said he held talks with rivals eager to license its software.
RIM will begin a campaign with U.S. carriers next week to entice consumers to try its latest BlackBerry 7 devices with touch screens and better Web browsers, Heins said yesterday in an interview at Bloomberg headquarters in New York. The promotions won’t be about “just simply money,” they will also involve mobile applications, or apps, he said.
“We have to do something dramatically different in the U.S. to get our market share back,” said Heins, 54. “I’m here to fight. I’m here to win.”
Heins, a 24-year veteran of Siemens AG (SIE), faces the challenge of reversing momentum at RIM after the company lost out in the smartphone market to Apple Inc. (AAPL)’s iPhone and devices that run on Google Inc. (GOOG)’s Android software. RIM’s revenue has slumped for two quarters, driving RIM shares down 75 percent last year.
Heins, who took over from co-Chief Executive Officers Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis, said his immediate priority is to revive BlackBerry sales in the U.S., get a revamped version of Waterloo, Ontario-based RIM’s struggling PlayBook tablet onto the market next month and introduce its new operating system, BlackBerry 10, on time later this year.
“In the first 100 days, that is what you’re going to see me focus on,” Heins said. “My first job is to get BlackBerry 7 into all of your hands.”
The Munich native is getting by on a handful of hours sleep a night so that he can travel by day to meet customers and run the business by night on his BlackBerry. The company needs to improve its marketing and communicate better to build excitement about its products, he said.
U.S. sales fell 45 percent last quarter, dragging revenue lower even as sales in emerging markets like Indonesia and India surged. The BlackBerry’s share of the global smartphone market fell to 11 percent in the third quarter of 2011, from 21 percent two years earlier, according to Gartner Inc. The aging BlackBerry lineup failed to match the features and number of applications available on the iPhone and Android devices.
“When BlackBerry got positioned the way you experienced it, it was on a set of values: battery life, network efficiency, security and best typing experience,” Heins said. “In the U.S. specifically, what we missed is a shift in those paradigms” to more consumer-oriented features like Web-browsing and apps, Heins said.
Now, RIM is rebuilding its lineup of BlackBerrys on BB10, an operating system based on software used to run nuclear power plants and unmanned aerial drones. During his interview, Heins repeatedly went back to a video demonstration of PlayBook 2.0, its new tablet software which incorporates many of the features that will come with BB10. He showed how users can flip between e-mail, Web browsing, Facebook and Twitter without ever leaving any of those programs.
RIM’s new software is appealing enough that he’s been approached about licensing it, Heins said. The company has held discussions with interested handset makers and personal-computer makers, he said, declining to name them.
“We’ve had lots of interest about this,” Heins said.
RIM rose 3.3 percent to $16.80 yesterday. The stock was given a lift after Fairfax Financial Holdings Ltd. (FFH) said it doubled its stake in RIM. Prem Watsa, who runs Fairfax, was named as a director at RIM this week as part of RIM’s leadership changes.
The stock has rebounded after falling earlier in the week when comments by Heins on a conference call were interpreted by some investors as a sign that he would run RIM much in the way of his predecessors.
Neither that nor the suggestion that he will be unduly influenced by Lazaridis, who is staying on as vice chairman and leads RIM’s innovation committee, is correct, Heins said.
“I love to work with Mike in his visionary capacities,” he said. ’’But make no mistake, I run the company.’’
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