MUMBAI: Sunil Lalvani took charge of the struggling smartphone maker Blackberry's Indian arm in May this year as its MD after having led the company's enterprise business. Lalvani told TOI in an exclusive interview that the Waterloo, Ontario-based embattled firm, formerly known as Research in Motion, will now bank on its once popular BBM messenger to reclaim past glory. According to Cybermedia Research, from having an 11.8% share of the smartphone market in second quarter last year, Blackberry today has a miniscule 1.1% share. There have been reports of it looking to hive off BBM into a separate subsidiary even as the company weighs options of a partial stake sale or a complete sellout. With plans to launch the BBM cross-platform on Android and iOS along with a social networking tool called BBM Channels in the offing, Lalvani said Blackberry is reinventing itself by sprucing up its services offerings and revenues. Excerpts:
Your CEO Thorsten Heins said recently the company is evaluating a sellout. What's the road ahead for Blackberry?
The board has set up a committee to evaluate strategic alternatives like financial investors, partners, alliances or possibly exploring a partial or a complete sellout. He didn't talk only about a sellout. I think it is the right time for strategic options to be evaluated. What we are doing in the strategic alternatives is that we are looking at taking the BBM cross-platform as one option.
Don't you think it has taken you very long to make BBM a cross-platform? Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger have taken a major chunk of the market ...
No, we announced the intent to do this in May this year. We are looking at taking it cross-platform on Android and iOS and really scaling the BBM user numbers exponentially. It is in beta stages currently. India has about 650-700 million active mobile users. How many of them actually use smartphones? And how many of those people use instant messaging services such as BBM and other messaging platforms that you have mentioned? Not more than 30-40 million. So the prospects to grow the market are huge.
What will be the USP of the cross-platform BBM compared to other messenger services?
Anyone who has used BBM in the past will swear by the fact that the whole feature of BBM being private (you can choose who you want to stay connected with) or reliable as well as the immediacy of messages being delivered and read is unique to BBM. This is what makes it stand apart. Because BBM is run on a private network, it has all these features of security, reliability and immediacy built in it.
How are you addressing the issue of market share loss? The Z10 and Q10 were key for a turnaround. However, not much happened post the launch ...
I won't deny the fact that the last 18 months for the company have been tough. The whole intent was that BlackBerry 10 as a platform or OS has been positioned in the market segment as a very powerful operating system. We have built our operating system ground up. It is not that we couldn't align with another operating system. If you take Android today, at any stage in the market there are 150 different smartphone models available on the platform. In comparison to that, how many BlackBerry 10 devices do you have on the BlackBerry 10 OS? I won't say it is a level playing field to compare device to device market shares in that segment.