Such a sale is just one of several strategic options apparently under consideration as RIM prepares for arguably the biggest gamble of its existence, the launch of BlackBerry 10. Due later this month, the next-generation smartphone platform is meant to reintroduce RIM as a major player in the smartphone OS market, which is currently dominated by Google Android and Apple’s iOS.
“We do not want to limit our options,” Heins told the paper. “There are several options, including the sale of the hardware production [and] licensing our software.” But that comes after the company launches BlackBerry 10, which he termed “a crucial moment and milestone.” (For those who don’t speak German, a translation is available via Google Translate.)
BlackBerry 10 is a radical reimagining of the traditional BlackBerry OS. In place of grids of icons linked to applications, the BlackBerry 10 home-screen offers “live tiles” that dynamically refresh with updated information. Users can move between apps by swiping, peek at notifications by “flicking” the screen from the bottom, and filter email and social accounts through a Hub. That sort of gesture control will be familiar to anyone who’s used RIM’s PlayBook tablet, which is built on the same QNX technology as BlackBerry 10.
If early leaks prove accurate, at least one of the new BlackBerry 10 smartphones will feature a sleek, button-free body and a full touch-screen. RIM could also introduce a BlackBerry 10 device with a physical QWERTY keyboard—a callback to the design that made BlackBerry devices so iconic, once upon a time.
But BlackBerry 10 faces some serious challenges. Not only have iOS and Android eaten away at RIM’s share of the mobile device market, but government agencies and large businesses—once a reliable element of RIM’s customer pool—have begun abandoning BlackBerry devices in favor of other hardware, often employees’ personal devices configured to run on an office network. With a crumbling subscriber base, RIM’s earnings have fallen as well: for the quarter ended Dec. 1, the company reported that revenues had tumbled 47 percent year-over-year.
In other words, whether or not BlackBerry 10 proves a monster hit, Heins could have some hard decisions to make in the next few months.