These are hard times for BlackBerry. With iPhone, Android-based devices, and even Windows Phone gaining market share, the Canadian device maker finds itself in a battle for relevancy. The future of the company’s hardware business is riding on a slick smartphone called Priv that boasts an impressive array of features and a hefty price tag. “From the beginning, one of our chief goals with the Priv was to create a device that was a joy to use for both work and play,” says Narendra Nayak, managing director, BlackBerry India. An industry veteran, Narendra has worked with leading IT and telecom companies such as IBM, Motorola and CSC India. “We wanted to bring BlackBerry’s enterprise expertise to Android, and create a smartphone that both enterprise professionals and regular consumers can appreciate.” He tells Sudhir Chowdhary that the company is now in very good health, financially and from a strategy standpoint.” Excerpts:
Q. What is it like to be the MD of BlackBerry India, one bright spot in the company’s global operations?
A. It is a very exciting time to be at BlackBerry, a brand synonymous with mobile security. BlackBerry is at an interesting stage and we are at the cusp of transformation, poised to ‘take off’. Over the last two years, we have put a solid foundation for new strategy to be a provider of open platform for mobile security solutions to our customers, be it for software or devices. We look forward to building our business here in India by ensuring our help to enterprise and government organisations select and implement an end-to-end mobile security strategy—irrespective of the device or devices they are using.
Q. Why is BlackBerry launching a smartphone powered by Android? Is it in trouble?
A. The company is now in very good health, financially and from a strategy standpoint. We just announced our Q3 results last month and reported 7th straight quarter-on-quarter positive cash flow. We reported 43% year-over-year organic growth in software license revenue for the third quarter of fiscal 2016. We have a healthy balance sheet and have $2.7 billion in cash today. This is after five acquisitions we made over the last 12-18 months. We are very strongly positioned from a financial and strategy standpoint.
On the Android side, we noticed that there was an unserved need in the market and thus we launched BlackBerry Priv. The need was around users who are looking for a lot of the unique strengths that BlackBerry had, which is looking for productivity, security and privacy on the device. These are becoming extremely important as the consumers start using the mobile device more and more for both personal and professional purposes.
To be married with the open app system, that an Android environment provides them, that’s something we believe we are uniquely positioned to provide to the consumer. If we can bring all the unique strengths of BlackBerry heritage and marry that with the open app ecosystem that Android provides, we address the unserved need in the market. In fact, we are meeting an under-served Android market— a market focused on security and privacy. We have full confidence that Priv meets this demand and we are bringing BlackBerry’s strong privacy DNA to the Android platform, and Priv will deliver top-of-the-line features for maximum productivity.
Q.What was the vision behind designing Priv?
A. From the beginning, one of our chief goals with the Priv was to create a device that was a joy to use for both work and play. We wanted to bring BlackBerry’s enterprise expertise to Android, and create a smartphone that both enterprise professionals and regular consumers can appreciate. Judging from what’s being said by reviewers and journalists, we have done just that.
Priv is targeted at the power user who wants to use the device not only for productivity, security, privacy and the Android app ecosystem but also wants functionality from a hardware perspective as well. We have packed this device with lot of high-end features. Be it the Corning Gorilla glass we are using, or the lenses, the German certified lenses, the high-end camera that we are using or the kind of memory that is available and lastly the ability to use the tactile sliding keyboard on such a slim form factor.
Q.What makes BlackBerry devices running on Android OS so unique?
A. This device is not yet another Android device; it brings the versatility and access that Android provides. It will do that while ensuring that you get productivity, security and privacy. We have used BlackBerry’s long heritage in security and done exactly what we have done earlier with all our device on this device as well. We have got security incorporated starting from the device chip-set level, encryption that we have done in old BlackBerry devices. We have injected security into Android. So, the only change we made is injecting security into Android.
In a sea of look-alike all touch smartphones, comes a purposefully differentiated smartphone that delivers on performance, productivity, privacy and play. Priv combines everything you have come to expect from BlackBerry with the full ecosystem of Android apps. BlackBerry has created its own app called DTEK; it is a single dashboard to monitor and control application access to your microphone, camera, location and other personal information.
We will deliver upgrades as Google announces them. We already launched one upgrade a few weeks ago and the 2nd patch in the next couple of weeks. Within 60-75 days, we are going to give upgrades. It’s a commitment from our side as Google announces them.
Q. Don’t you feel that market expectations are too high from the company?
A. We like that customers have high expectation from us. We have a strong and steady list of consumers—senior management of many companies and professionals like journalists, lawyers, bankers. That’s something which is very good for the brand and we would like to continue to serve those consumers. We would love our consumers to have a high expectation from us and we would love to deliver that. We believe in what we are delivering with the Priv.
Q. How do you plan to revive your position in the Indian handset pecking order?
A. BlackBerry has a legacy and being one of the pioneers in smartphone innovation, the brand continues to resonate with the consumers as one of the most trusted smartphone makers. In this regard, India remains an extremely important country for us. We have also redefined our strategy with the new management and structured the business into four pillars including enterprise services, messaging, QNX embedded business and the devices business. This structure was devised to drive greater focus on services and software, while establishing a more efficient business model for the devices business.
As a pioneer in mobility, we are committed to delivering innovative, high-quality devices that help users communicate securely, collaborate seamlessly and enhance productivity. It’s important to remember that BlackBerry is more than just a smartphone manufacturer—we are a mobile solutions company that services the needs of customers looking for secure technologies that drive productivity, communications and collaboration.
Q. What will be your strategy going forward for the India market?
A. I think one is to bring back our customer confidence. We have three part of business in BlackBerry—the device segment, the enterprise software business which is now a very robust portfolio of the products that we offer targeted completely to the mobile security space, and lastly we have BlackBerry Technology Solutions which is focused on some niche areas like providing infotainment in cars. We have the QNX system and IoT. Our strategy is to bring relevant parts of the business into the market. All three will have different go-to market strategies. All three of them are different businesses in nature and we will ensure that we have the right market and channel strategy. We want all of them to be present in India. We want to get some wins in the areas that we have spoken about. Whether it is the secure files sync and share or the secure public crisis communication, all these are our leading products and areas.