May 16, 2008 11:01 AM PDT

RIM's Lazaridis: Qwerty is the next big thing

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BlackBerry maker RIM has been very busy this week hosting the Wireless Enterprise Symposium in Orlando, Fla. One of the announcements causing the biggest stir was the BlackBerry Bold--touted by some as the device to rival the iPhone.

At the conference, co-CEO Mike Lazaridis caught up with reporter Natasha Lomas to tell us why he believes smartphones are the future, why Qwerty is so exciting, and why the Bold has nothing to do with the iPhone.

The rise of the smartphone...
I've always believed that the feature phone market was going to transition to smartphones. And smartphones really were the future.

Credit: Research
In Motion
Mike Lazaridis, RIM
president and co-CEO

If you go back in history, just about every major consumer electronics technology in history started in the enterprise. So everything from printers, fax machines, telephones, typewriters--you name it, it all started in the enterprise. And then as it became easier to manage, as it came down in price, as it became more ergonomic, what happened was all these businesspeople, who're also consumers--when they saw it available in the store, for a price that they can have it in their home, they start putting fax machines in their home, they start putting PCs in their home, they start putting tape recorders in their home. All of these technologies have their birthplace in business and BlackBerry's following that same path. BlackBerry's really a product that has successfully commercialized the concept of the smartphone for business.

On touch-screen interfaces...
Everyone's trying to get into this game now. So they're coming up with different innovations, we're seeing different types of articulated devices, you're seeing touch screens, you're seeing all kinds of stuff--the fact is people have grown up from the old dial-tone phone keypad. That's the key.

I worked on the very first touch screens. Let's go back in time now--Gold Computing, Newton, Envoy, Marco--the very first touch screens on the Sharp organizers, I had one of those. The very first Palm. I met Jeff Hawkins and (Donna) Dubinsky back when Palm was a block of wood, so I go right back to the beginning. How's that? I've used all the touch screens, I've known about touch screens and I've watched NEC and Palm use full touch screens since the mid-90s and what I watched was the whole industry eventually have to license our keyboard technology.

We have to be realistic about the history of this technology. We have to remember that this is not new--this has been done, this has been tried before. And there are other ways to provide a large screen and a Qwerty keyboard without compromising them by putting one on top of the other.

The iPhone effect...
I think that BlackBerry was the first and best integrated and most secure smartphone solution in the world a decade ago. And it continues to be today. But I think what happened was the amount of marketing and the attention (Apple) generated in the market--the customers are now coming to the store and saying I didn't know you could do all that with a phone. And when they get there they realize there's a selection--there's not just one device. And so what it's actually done is increased our sales.

BlackBerry Bold
Credit: RIM
RIM's BlackBerry Bold,
released this week,
has largely been viewed
as an iPhone rival.

The BlackBerry Bold versus the iPhone...
This is three years in the making. So I'm sorry but this wasn't a response to another device. Either that or we have a time machine somewhere, or some kind of magic crystal ball or something. This was actually designed three years ago and the actual physical design of this product--I have the original models from 2006.

Future challenges...
We're already working on our next-generation platform. One of the things that we're really focused on is battery life. And one of the big challenges in 3G has been the battery life of these products when they're really using data. And so a lot of innovation has gone into our products--we're the first to invent several technologies that have at least halved the amount of battery consumption of our products on an always-on connection.

The most exciting mobile trend is...
Full Qwerty keyboards. I'm sorry, it really is. I'm not making this up. People are running out of their two-year contracts and they're coming into the stores and they want to be able to do Facebook and they want to be able to do instant messaging and they want to be able to do e-mail and they ask for those features thinking that they're going to get another flip phone and they're walking out with a (BlackBerry) Curve or a Pearl because they're the best devices for doing those kinds of activities. And so what is the defining factor? The keyboard.

Natasha Lomas of reported from Orlando, Fla.

See more CNET content tagged:
Research In Motion Ltd., smart phone, touch screen, fax machine, RIM BlackBerry


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"Keyboard or touch screen" is a false choice. Having a keyboard is good. Having a touch screen is good. It's the BlackBerry navigation wheel that competes directly with the touch screen, and the touch screen wins.
Posted by scottjoy (7 comments )
Reply Link Flag
"iPhone? What's an iPhone? Touchscreens? I KNOW touchscreens! I've never heard of an iPhone.. er... certainly not scared to death of it. Our sales are UP, because people love keyboards! So... ahem... no idea what an iPhone is, and certainly not scared of it. ahem."

sure dude, whatever. and the bold took 3 years to make? wow, might want to speed that up a little...
Posted by muskratboy (349 comments )
Reply Link Flag
@muskratboy: how much did apple pay you?
Posted by upmd (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Why would it take 3 years to develop what is clearly, and mildly, and evolution of the same Blackberry species? If that is true, I would try to keep it secret. I definitely wouldn't brag about it. Wow.
Posted by toddsellers (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Geeeessshh! The Blackberry is doomed. This article was posted almost 24 hours ago and there are only four comments....!!?? Apparently nobody cares about what the co-CEO of Blackberry thinks. Maybe it's because this guy is so defensive. And that "The most exciting mobile trend is....." FULL QWERTY KEYBOARDS!?!?! I'm sorry, it really IS NOT! No wonder the iPhone can't stay on shelves with thinking like that from the "competition."
Posted by NoseTek (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Yep... just about all the major consumer devices started in the enterprise.Seems likeRIM is repeating history. You gotta admit the Blackberry is really amazing... Look at how many consumers are getting the blackberry's for typing activities... The world is changing... its all about accessing internet from whereever you are... and its about QWERTY...

I like this article alot!
Posted by apereymer (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
RIM is running scared. Or if they are not, then they are really stupid. :-)

And touch screen is not the big thing. Its a great tool, but its the software that makes the difference.

User after user says, "Sure my phone can do that, I just cannot figure out how to make it do it." With the iPhone, they say, "Neat."

And the touch screen gives the software a way to do a zillion things, keyboard, game console, web reading (enlarge shrink. etc) .

RiM will not die, it will just shrink to a much smaller size. LOL

Posted by eldernorm (220 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I know Mike, and he doesn't lie. His comments might come off as defenssive but they aren't. Touch screens have their place on mobile devices but so far text input isn't the strong suit for touch screens. Touch screens are great browesing and UI navigation. Text input mistakes on the current iPhone are 13 per hundred keystroked after two months of average usage. The same stat for the Blackberry Curve is 3 per hundred.

My prediction is that both Apple and RIMM will produce a device that combines QWERTY and Touch Screen in the next 18 months.
Posted by mcote (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
How well do you know Mike? If really well contact me at my user name at yahoo com
Posted by selfsustainvision (1 comment )
Link Flag
Yes, indeed, here's hoping. My Palm TX with the compact keyboard that fit very nicely in my purse is a godsend for journalists and anyone just wanting to take notes that are more than just a couple of sentences. I haven't replaced my stolen goodies yet, hoping that Apple will come through with a truly usable iPhone keyboard!
Posted by Missourah Mule (7 comments )
Link Flag

Please, show where you got your source concerning the "13 per hundred." If you care to eloborate further, indicate the sample size of your statistics.
Posted by Silver_Surfer3838 (7 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Hmm. Blackberry may be hot now but something about this interview tells me that before long RIM'll be keeping Moto and Palm company in the place where North American handset companies go to when they die.
Posted by hashkey (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
I don't really agree with his view that most consumer technology starts in the enterprise.
Sure, mainframes and dumb terminals (like Blackberry) may have started in the enterprise, but they are now gradually declining in relevance. Both have focus on the keyboard.
However, the iPhone is basically a hand-held personal computer that can make phone calls. Historically, each variation of the PC has started in the consumer market then gradually migrated into the enterprise. I think that will also happen with the iPhone, which will start to displace Blackberries just as PC's eventually displaced dumb terminals.
Posted by open-mind (1027 comments )
Reply Link Flag
eldernorm said "User after user says, "Sure my phone can do that, I just cannot figure out how to make it do it." With the iPhone, they say, "Neat."

So, according to your logic, iPhones are SmartPhones for dumb people. I have a Treo 700p on Verizon's network. While it doesn't look as "cool" as the does more (I haven't seen an RDC client for the iPhone and I sure wouldn't want to try to view my Windows desktop through that EDGE connection!!).
Posted by Habious (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
(I haven't seen an RDC client for the iPhone)

You're just not looking in the right place! lol.

Soooooo many choices. The Treo is a fine tool, but 1 session with the iphone and you'll never go back.

I, too, was the anti-apple-fanboy for almost a year. Once I got my hands on an iPhone I could not believe how truly great it was. It was like, there's Apple iPhone over here and everything else over there -- and WHY would you EVER go "over there?"
Posted by hobbyistx (1 comment )
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