“Who still needs a BlackBerry?” German newspaper Die Welt asked RIM CEO Thorstein Heins in its interview, ahead of the 30 January launch of BB10.
Its 80m users worldwide, Heins pointed out, for a start.
But the CEO, who has only been in place for a year, knows that this is actually a crucial time for both him and his business. RIM's future depends on the success of its new OS - but what it may no longer need, Heins told Die Welt, is its hardware arm.
"There are several options, including the sale of the hardware production, as well as licensing our software," he said (translated from German with the help of Google Translate). "But there is no reason for us to decide in haste. It is important first of all, BlackBerry 10 successfully putting them on the market. Then we shall see."
If RIM is open to licensing BB10 out to other OEMs - and if they wanted to adopt the platform - then it makes sense that the business could play down its own manufacturing aspect.
The company is unsurprisingly banking on its new platform, which it has been working on for more than two years, to bring it back from the brink.
“We have taken the time to build a platform that is future-proof for the next ten years,” he said. Heins outlined RIM’s intention for the OS to be used in connected cars and said that while people may still perceive the Blackberry as a business device, that is ‘no longer the reality’. The Blackberry Hub and Balance features, developed to help users manage social and work-related communications, were well-received at CES.
The RIM gang have been pounding the pavements getting demos out to more than 100 operators, the CEO said.
But will Blackberry be able to catch up with the likes of Google and Apple? “We are a relatively young industry. In the smartphone market, which is growing fast, there is still plenty of room,” he said. "It will be shown at some point, how many systems the market can bear. I think our role will be substantial."
That ‘substantial’ role might well be in the form of licensing agreements, which Heins said was ‘conceivable’, or even the sale of their hardware production business. The company has become ‘leaner’, is debt-free and has $2.9bn in cash. So he said this was not a decision that would need to be made quickly.
Right now, the company needs to remain focused on the long-awaited BB10 launch. “This is a crucial moment and milestone for Research In Motion," he admitted.