RIM CEO sees new BlackBerry powering growth

A new line of BlackBerry 10 devices will provide Research In Motion with a framework for growth over the next decade, offering long-term value for unhappy shareholders, Chief Executive Thorsten Heins said on Wednesday.

Research in Motion President and Chief Executive Officer Thorsten Heins discusses the upcoming release of BlackBerry 10 during an interview at the RIM offices in Waterloo

In an interview with Reuters, Heins said RIM had identified $800 million of the $1 billion of savings it promised for the financial year ending in early March, and was confident of finding the rest as it gets ready to launch the new phones.

RIM is betting that the new smartphones will help it claw back the market share it has lost to the likes of Apple Inc’s iPhone and devices powered by Google’s Android operating system.

Both consumers and corporate customers have abandoned the BlackBerry in droves, even though the devices offer security features that rivals have been unable to match.

“There’s this high-level security that you cannot walk away from, and then there’s ‘good enough’ security,” Heins said in an interview at RIM’s Waterloo, Ontario, campus, a sprawl of low-rise buildings.

But analysts remain skeptical, especially after the botched 2011 launch of RIM’s PlayBook tablet computer, which the company had hoped would compete with Apple’s wildly popular iPad. The PlayBook had top-of-the-line hardware, but its software was far from complete at the launch and needed multiple updates.

RIM delayed the roll-out of the BlackBerry 10 phones to the first quarter of 2013 so as not to repeat the errors that surrounded the PlayBook launch.

Heins said the delay was the correct decision – the way to ensure the BB10 phones are a high-quality product rather than a rushed one that would not meet customer expectations.

“I think it’s all lining up. Sometimes you get the feeling that the universe is in disarray, and with BlackBerry 10 coming, I see the stars lining up,” Heins said.

Sleek demo models

Sleek demo models of the new phones look much like the high-end smartphones in the market today, and company executives proudly showed off a touch-screen version and a version with the miniature QWERTY keyboard popular with many BlackBerry users.

Users flick a thumb or finger to maneuver from one program to another and can sneak a look at an incoming email while browsing the Internet or using other applications, a multi-tasking ability that RIM says rival devices lack.

Personal and business profiles can be kept separately, something RIM calls BlackBerry Balance. Corporations can erase only their share of the data on a device if they need to do so for security reasons, leaving personal photos, contacts and emails untouched.

The app library available at launch will not match the vast number available on other devices. Heins said RIM had chosen to focus on providing those apps needed in different regional markets. It expects some 100,000 apps to be ready at launch.

The developer community has been broadly enthusiastic about the devices. But financial analysts have mixed views on their likely reception in an ultra-competitive market.

Pacific Crest analyst James Faucette warned last week that BlackBerry 10 is likely to be dead on arrival – with an operating system that gets “a lukewarm response at best,” due to the unfamiliar user interface and a shortage of apps.

Shareholder value

Heins insisted morale was high at the company, despite 5,000 job cuts and a rapidly sliding market share ahead of the launch of the new phones.
RIM’s share price is down more than 90 percent from a 2008 peak of about $148. It has fallen even after Heins, a former Siemens AG executive, took over in January. The shares on Wednesday closed at $8.49 on Nasdaq.

“The message to our shareholders is that we understand this is and has been a difficult time for them and for us,” the tall, bespectacled CEO said. “But with the development of the BlackBerry 10 platform we are truly convinced that we will create long-term value for RIM’s shareholders and investors.”

RIM has already given the demo phones to developers and to carriers, and its new BlackBerry Enterprise Server 10, which runs the devices on corporate networks, is in beta testing with 20 key customers — both government agencies and corporates.

Next month, the company will give more than 50 top enterprise customers technical previews of both BES 10 and the devices.

Heins said the feedback he is getting from the customer base “is very encouraging.”

With the erosion of RIM’s base particularly strong in North America, there has been speculation the company could choose to launch the new phones in a region where the phones remain popular. Heins said that would not be the case.

“We cannot launch every carrier and every country on the same day, but what we have defined is a set of waves in the various regions,” he said. “It is going to be a global launch. There isn’t one preferred region. We are managing and planning it as we speak.”

REUTERS

Apple to shrink connector for iPhone 5

Apple Inc’s new iPhone will drop the wide dock connector used in the company’s gadgets for the best part of a decade in favor of a smaller one, a change likely to annoy the Apple faithful but which could be a boon for accessory makers.

Attendees sit in front of an Apple logo during the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference 2012 in San Francisco

The iPhone 5, Apple’s next generation iPhone expected to go on sale around October, will come with a 19-pin connector port at the bottom instead of the proprietary 30-pin port “to make room for the earphone moving to the bottom”, two sources familiar with the matter told Reuters.

That would mean the new phone would not connect with the myriad of accessories such as speakers and power chargers that form part of the ecosystem around iPods, iPads and iPhones, without an adaptor.

That means new business, analysts say.

“It represents an opportunity for accessory vendors,” said Pete Cunningham, London-based analyst at technology research firm Canalys. “The iPhone connector has been a standard for a long time now and I would expect the same to be true for a new connector, should Apple change it as expected.”

Apple did not immediately reply to an emailed request for comment.

Tech blogs have long speculated on the demise of the 30-pin connector, which at 21 mm wide takes up a chunk of space, especially as the latest technologies such as microUSB offer more power in less space.

They say that a smaller connector would give Apple more scope for new product designs or a bigger battery, or simply to make ever smaller products.

Switzerland’s Logitech, one of the biggest makers of Apple speakers, declined to comment.

But some enterprising vendors in China have already begun offering cases for the new phone, complete with earphone socket on the bottom and a “guarantee” the dimensions are correct.

For some in the peripherals industry, the change could open doors to new business.

“iPod docking speaker sales have been declining for one or two years,” said an employee of a Hong Kong-based company that designs speakers especially for Apple products.

“My previous factory is a lucky one. They shifted the focus to Bluetooth speakers, which proved a wise decision now,” the employee said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“It looks like while iPod speaker sales are going down, Bluetooth speaker sales are going up.”

HAPPY TO UPGRADE?

Apple has already said that some users of older models of its Macbook computers won’t be able to use the latest operating system to be announced soon, but analysts think it will be kinder to mobile gadget users.

“Apple needs to find a solution not to disappoint their current clients who want to upgrade to the new iPhone but are tied to an expensive accessory that have bought,” said Franciso Jeronimo, London-based analyst at technology research firm IDC.

“I believe Apple will come up with some sort of adaptor so the new iPhone can be used with previous connectors.”
It could be a difficult change for Apple to manage, even with an adaptor.

“With a smaller connector, what am I going to do with my loudspeaker at home and the fitness pack that I use when I go to the gym? That’s the question,” said 24-year old Travis Tam, who owns an iPhone 4 and works as an account executive at a social networking company in Hong Kong.

“I feel that the premium gap between the next iPhone 5 and newest Android models is getting much smaller these days. That will mean that details such as having a smaller connector will mean more in whether I will continue to use an iPhone and switch to other Android phones.”

A salesman surnamed Chan at an Apple reseller in Hong Kong thought a smaller connector would be a “pain”, and would spoil the clean lines and seamless connectivity that is Apple’s trademark.

“There are ways around it as some of the speakers have an audio input point that can be connected directly to any iPhone with a earphone jack. It’s not a very elegant way of doing things, but it’s an alternative,” he said.

In the end though, Apple fans are Apple fans.

“I don’t think it will stop Apple consumers from buying the new gadgets,” said C.K. Lu, Taipei-based analyst at research firm Gartner. “Many companies are interested in developing accessories for Apple because Apple users are more open and willing to buy accessories.”

REUTERS

Google launches Gmail SMS in Nigeria

Google has rolled out a new service in Ghana, Nigeria and Kenya that lets Gmail users send and receive emails using the built-in SMS features of their mobile phones.

The implications of this are pretty big, as it means mobile Internet access isn’t required, and users don’t need a new-fangled smartphone with 3G or WiFi capabilities either. For emerging markets, where iPhone and Android uptake may not be what it is in the Western world, not to mention limited Web access, Gmail SMS (available locally) is an interesting launch.

As long as you have a basic mobile phone with voice and SMS capability in these three African countries, you’ll now be able to do all your emailing by text message through activating a simple setting on your Gmail account.

How it works

“Gmail SMS automatically forwards your emails as SMS text messages to your phone and you can respond by replying directly to the SMS,” says Geva Rechav, Product Manager of Emerging Markets at Google. “You can control the emails received by replying with commands such as MORE, PAUSE and RESUME. Additionally, compose a new email as an SMS and send to any email address recipient – who will find your message in the right email conversation thread.”

So, how do you set yourself up with Gmail SMS?

First of all, you’ll need to log-in to your Gmail account, and click on your profile at the top of the page and then hit Account.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next, you’ll have to access your settings in the “Phone and SMS” section:

 

 

 

 

You will then have to link your mobile phone number to your account to be able to send and receive emails from your handset:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When you click to send a verification code to your mobile phone, you then enter that number you receive into the box on the set-up page.

While the Gmail SMS service itself is free, you will of course still be charged whatever your local SMS rates are.

It’s not yet clear if it plans to open up this service to the rest of the world, but it seems that it likely will make this available in other key emerging markets across Africa and Asia, with Ghana, Nigeria and Kenya the test-beds for this initial launch.

We’ve contacted Google for further comment here, and to establish what its longer term plans are for Gmail SMS.

Minister promises to tackle poor telecoms service in the country

The Minister of Communications Technology, Omobola Johnson, has promised to tackle the poor quality of service in the telecoms sector, adding that the issue will soon become a thing of the past.

Mrs Johnson made the statement on Thursday during the House of Representatives’ Committee on Communication’s oversight visit to the ministry.

According to the minister, “we are working hard to improve the operating environment towards ensuring that issues of inadequate number of base stations, arbitrary cost and lengthy process of acquiring right of way were addressed.

She also said interruptions to cable laying, willful and accidental damage of fibre optic cables and base stations, among others, would be resolved for service quality to improve.

 

Apple beats Nokia over nano-SIM standard

Apple has won a battle over the standard for a smaller SIM card, use of which would leave more room for other components in future phone designs.

The new nano-SIM cards will measure 12.3×8.8mm, and have the same thickness as current micro SIM cards. “The SIM standard  which is officially known as the fourth form factor (4FF) will be 40% smaller than the current smallest SIM card design, at 12.3mm by 8.8mm by 0.67mm, according to ETSI. It can be packaged and distributed in a way that is backwards compatible with existing SIM card designs. The new design will offer the same functionality as all current SIM cards”  The European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) said

With modern mobiles becoming even smaller and slimmer than ever, space is at a premium. Hence the decision to shrink down the SIM. Nokia and Motorola proposed a design with different specs which they thought technically superior to Apple’s. Nokia claimed Apple’s design didn’t meet ETSI’s standards, saying it would get stuck in a micro SIM slot, and could lead to plenty of headaches for consumers.

Apple and Motorola also wanted a push mechanism for inserting the SIM, but Apple’s tray design won over. (It’s like the one currently found in the iPhone.) Though Nokia can’t be that against the SIM tray, seeing as it implemented it in its latest flagship, the Lumia 900.