RIM CMO Frank Boulben talks BlackBerry10 and next-gen mobile computing

The smartphone market is at an inflection point, says RIM, and the company plans to be there.

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Frank Boulben, chief marketing officer, RIM

You may have noticed the smashed Apple logo on our latest cover (GO. BUY. NOW.), which is a story on the rise of Samsung over the last two years from smartphone also-ran to powerhouse player giving iPhone a run for its money. One of my sources for that was Research In Motion’s chief marketing officer Frank Boulben, and while some of his thoughts made it to the magazine story, our conversation on RIM and BlackBerry 10’s positioning was an interesting one worth posting.

Boulben talked about the current generation of smartphones and how the category is due for a change beyond the iPhone standard, in terms of how consumers use their devices and how he sees RIM using this shift to its advantage with BlackBerry 10.

Some might see Boulben’s points on how they want Blackberry to change mobile computing as overly optimistic. Just don’t accuse him of not swinging for the fences.

Canadian Business: Thorsten [Heins] has said recently that the mobile landscape is preparing for another shift. What has been the most significant development in the mobile landscape over the last year and how has the race for market share changed?

Frank Boulben: I’d say over the last five years what we’ve seen is the introduction of a new paradigm in terms of user experience in a smartphone by the iPhone. It’s a full-touch paradigm with a home screen and if you want to do something, you click on an icon, then when you want to do something else, you click the home button then another icon. Very simple, very intuitive, very elegant. That paradigm has dominated over the last five years, without out much fundamental innovation.

Coming back from our global road show where we spoke to 40 carriers around the world, that’s how they see the marketplace. It’s a de facto duopoly between Apple and Samsung, with a proposition of user experience that is a bit of me-too between them. ‘Mine is slightly better than yours,’ ‘I’ve got a larger screen,’ ‘Mine is retina’—with very little real differentiation at the end of the day.

CB: So where does Blackberry 10 fit in to this dynamic?

FB: Our goal is to change the marketplace, which we believe is at an inflection point right now. We are, unlike our competitors, true believers in mobile computing. They believe in an integrated, multi-screen environment between the home and office, across your smartphone, TV, PC, tablet, etc. It’s all part of the same environment with multiple computing units. Our view with BB10 as a computing platform is that you don’t need all those computing units because there is enough processing power in those next generation smartphones that you can plug them in to a docking station and everything else is peripheral—medium-sized screens, large screens, printers, external keyboard. You don’t need another computing unit, whether at home or office and that sets us apart in terms of long-term vision.

Also, 75% of the world doesn’t have a smartphone yet. For many of them, it will be their first way to connect to the Internet. This is particularly true in the developing world where they haven’t got a laptop or desktop and we believe they will never have one. They will only have a smartphone and the peripheral accessories because for them the total cost of ownership is critical.

The smartphone market may seem big, but it’s only about 20% of the world’s population. Among those who do have a smartphone, the renewal rate is pretty rapid. We have many angles to win back or upgrade existing owners.

CB: How do you plan to get consumers out of that me-too marketing cycle?

FB: We’ll be doing nothing to reference those two competitors. We’ll be showcasing what’s distinctive in our products. We have so much innovation in there, we don’t need to play the me-too game. Our game is that we’re providing the next generation of technology. And if you think about it, five years to change a user paradigm is a normal life cycle. The consumers are ready for the next wave of innovation. And the last announcements by our competitors have comforted us into thinking that it’s becoming mature and they’re not getting to that next level in the short-term.

CB: Just as important as mobile hardware specs is the ecosystem of apps backing it up. How are you guys poised to compete in that arena?

FB: For us the ecosystem is the key component of the BlackBerry 10 experience. Accordingly, we have completely changed how the company works with the developer community. We’ve listened to them and made it easier for them to translate code from iOS and Android to BB10 framework and be a part of our ecosystem. And in terms of app developer monetization, we have the most attractive cut. We generate 4% more revenue per app than iPhone and 40% more per app than Android. We believe we will be the platform launching with the highest number of apps on its first device.

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