January 24, 2012 in Business

Research in Motion CEO plans ‘no seismic change’

Heins following predecessors’ lead with major upgrade of BlackBerry
Peter Svensson Associated Press
Associated Press photo

Jeff Gadway, senior manager of brand marketing for Research in Motion, discusses new BlackBerry technology in a presentation at the International Consumer Electronics Show on Jan. 10 in Las Vegas.
(Full-size photo)

NEW YORK – In the trend-setting North American market, BlackBerry phones have gone from must-have messaging toys to outdated clunkers – all in the space of a few years. The new CEO of Research In Motion, the company behind the phones, says it can claw its way back to the top with new software, but analysts are deeply doubtful.

The two co-CEOs of the Canadian company resigned Sunday. The new CEO is Thorsten Heins, who was the company’s chief operating officer.

Even though the company is in deep trouble and has seen its stock price fall 89 percent from the all-time high it hit in 2008, Heins said Monday that his appointment means “no seismic change” for the company. He’s confident in the course laid out by his predecessors, which hinges on the software revamp.

The new software is called BlackBerry 10, and it’s due in new smartphones late this year. For BlackBerry fans, it should be a welcome upgrade. It’s based on QNX, an industrial-grade operating system that runs devices that need to be reliable, like core Internet routers and anesthesia monitoring devices.

That means it’s a stable platform that can give BlackBerrys a new look and new capabilities. BlackBerry 10 will have a new user interface, built from the ground up for touchscreen input and “very fluid,” Heins said in an interview.

Heins said BlackBerry 10 is “extremely competitive” and insisted that RIM is “not in a catch-up race” with the makers of other mobile operating systems. He emphasizes that BlackBerry 10 will offer “multitasking,” or the ability to run several applications at the same time. This is something Google Inc.’s Android software and the Apple iPhone operating system offer in a limited fashion.

One thing that could entice buyers: The new software will greatly expand the choice of applications, by running ones written for Android. There are hundreds of thousands of such apps, but it’s unclear how many of them will run on BlackBerry 10 without modification.

Analysts say the main problem they see with BlackBerry 10 is that the phones are set to come out so late. They were originally slated for early this year, but were pushed to late this year. The company said that was because the right chips weren’t available. When they come out, it will be more than five years since Apple released the first iPhone and set a new standard for phone software.

And even if BlackBerry 10 makes the phones more competitive, that doesn’t mean it can reverse RIM’s fortunes. Analyst Tavis McCourt noted the history of phone-makers who fall on hard times and try to turn things around is not encouraging.

“In fact, it is hard to think of a single successful case in the smartphone era,” he wrote.

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