Exclusive interview BlackBerry’s European MD, Stephen Bates

I sat down today at BlackBerry Jam Europe with the company’s European Managing Director Stephen Bates and asked him a range of questions about the company’s recent launch. My questions are in bold.

Hi there Stephen, tell us about last week’s launch?
For me it was an amazing event to actually get to the point where we are actually standing on stage talking about BlackBerry 10. We have been working on this for a long time and it’s been a tough journey. We’ve had lots of challenges on the way so there’s a sense of pride and achievement throughout the team. We feel that we’ve proven we have the ability to get back in the game — now is the time to re-earn our respect and prove to our customers that we can deliver.

What’s been the reaction from your partners?
The carriers and retailers love it — they love ‘new’, they love clear differentiated products, they love what we’ve done to deal with the feedback that we’ve got over years about things that were not great with the platform; they love the fact that our new platform retains the essence of what BlackBerry was, yet moves it onwards.

For business customers, BlackBerry Balance seems to nail the problem beautifully around the existence of “private you” and “business you” — along with all the challenges you have of Bring Your Own Device and ensuring you protect your both personal and company day — this is what’s unique with BlackBerry Balance.

How has the Z10 been selling in the UK?
It’s going really well; we have as many of our partners active in as many channels as possible. initial reaction has been phenomenal. Stores sold out and the feedback — very important from store staff on the ground — is that the customer reaction has been great.

The call centre feedback has been good as well; We’ve been closely monitoring feedback so we can swiftly deal with any issues quickly, but most of the call volume has been customers asking for more information about the device, stock levels and contract terms.

Mobile Industry Review has a lot of developers reading. What should they take from the initial market launch reactions?

Actually I said earlier today on stage, I think it’s a good time to be a BlackBerry developer. With the BlackBerry 10 platform there’s clear differentiation, the hub, the keyboard, BBM video, BlackBerry Balance, multitasking and the ability to integrate into the hub too. BlackBerry 10 offers a great, fast and elegant experience that offers developers the ability to create beautiful, differentiated applications.

Behind this we’ve been working with carriers to integrate carrier billing — making it as easy as possible to pay is another benefit in ensuring applications sell.

We’ve defined this target market of BlackBerry people — hyper-connected people for whom multitasking is the norm. That description of an individual covers teenagers, mothers, small business owners, those in large corporates — we feel we’ve framed the proposition to really address that. We are obviously targeting our BlackBerry base but also that extends to people who had a BlackBerry but who moved for whatever reason. Last week’s launch has demonstrated we have fixed the disqualifiers thatthe platform once had.

There was a lot of talk about press interviews last week — what was the background on that?

I didn’t do as good a job as I could have. I was trying to get across how we have changed our business, how we have spent the last two years not only re-building but re-engineering. We have been looking at what’s not gone right for us and trying to define what people liked about BlackBerry along with what they didn’t like. We have spent a lot of time with the developer community too — and if you talk to many developers, they’ll tell you that there’s a big difference between how we work with them today than in the past. So for me last week I just didn’t explain that particularly well in one or two interviews.

What do you want to achieve from BlackBerry Jam Europe this week?
I’m happy that the developer community took this chance with us. They stayed with us, supported us — and they will leave tomorrow with confidence and renewed belief that BlackBerry is back. They’ll leave with a sense that they can make a difference, that they can show off some amazing offerings with our new platform.

What can we expect to see from BlackBerry after the two handsets launched last week?
So the two products we’ve launched are high end devices; we are intending bringing more mid-tier devices soon. We won’t get to the entry level this year though. The area of interest to us is mobile computing. We’re still working on framing this exactly, but it’s about mobile computing, about helping us all connect with intelligent mobile devices in and around our homes, cars and, for example, transport systems.

If you can imagine a world where we interact, translate and communicate with all these devices in a smarter way — that gives you a sense of where we’re aiming; we’re aiming to bulid that vision into a set of more tangible deliverables over the next months and years.

What are the hot markets in your region?
France and UK are the first countries for the BlackBerry 10 launch in Europe, but all the markets are important to us. In France and the UK, we have a strong customer base which developed from the business community into the consumer world. In Germany we have a strong base of business customers — we’d love to move out into the consumer market there. We’ll be following up with a launch in Spain, Italy, Holland and then Turkey. Right now we’re working with lots of partners in these countries on the plans for launch.

How are you bringing the Z10 to market across the region?
Right now we’re engaged with carriers on testing, certification and we’re working with the local applications and business development team to ensure that we bring enogh good local apps as well as the global ones. Fundamentally our objective is to get BlackBerry 10 launched in as many markets as quickly as we can.

What’s your message for developers and executives reading Mobile Industry Review?
We have brought a new BlackBerry platform to the market that puts you (the developer) in the front seat; we’ve provided strong developer toolkits (native, HTML5, and also the Android runtime environment) and we’ve got best-in-class developer infrastructure support to enable you to develop great applications. We believe we have a unique way of ensuring your applications appeal to the end consumer and stand out in the market.

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Thank you for taking the time Stephen.

You can find out more information about developing for BlackBerry at http://developer.blackberry.com/.

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