Why BlackBerry chief walked out of BBC interview
I don’t use a BlackBerry. I don’t need one. I am far from unique. Most people don’t own a BlackBerry. Most don’t need it, even though many who don’t need it clutch it to meetings or the coffee shop, or maybe kitty parties. In recent years, Americans have chanced upon this little secret and, increasingly, are flocking to Apple’s iPhone or phones running the Android operating system developed by Google.
That is why Research In Motion, the Canadian company that makes BlackBerry, has made a huge push overseas, especially in countries like India. It additionally has tried to brand itself rather differently than what it really is: a business phone with one predominant feature in so-called push mail. That is why you see the “BlackBerry boys” commercial and other creative ways to brand the phone as a chic gadget for the young, the rich and the powerful (Is there any other demographic worth targeting?). RIM has, rather successfully in India, branded the BlackBerry as a must-have for anybody who matters. Consequently, I find users of all sorts clutching, proudly, a BlackBerry when in fact they don’t even know how to use it.
I don’t grudge RIM’s ambitious effort to re-brand itself, either globally or in India, even though I find its campaign disingenuous. But what bothers me is the company’s attempt to portray Indian authorities as a Luddite that doesn’t understand technology, or seeks to not accept it. The truth is far different.
For over two years, BlackBerry has held talks with the Indian government at which it has offered dubious and conflicting technical reasons for not complying with legitimate security concerns. I detailed some in a previous blog you can read here. Simultaneously, it has had its spin doctors suggest that the Indian authorities are simply being unreasonable. In fact, the Indian government has been unduly patient and cooperative. Many other governments I can think of would have walked out of the talks and suspended the BlackBerry service, forcing RIM to expedite compliance.
Last week, RIM co-founder and CEO Mark Lazaridis abruptly ended an interview with BBC’s Rory Cellan-Jones. “That’s just not fair,” he responded when asked about security issues the company faces in India and the Middle East.
“First of all, we have no security problem. We’ve got the most secure platform. We’ve just been singled out because we’re so successful around the world.”
Lazaridis knows this well enough but might bear repeating because BlackBerry has deliberately confused the technology debate. The security of BlackBerry’s service is not in question. In fact, it probably is the world’s most secure platform. But that is the problem. If BlackBerry was any less secure, like either Nokia, iPhone or Android phones, it would face none of the problems it does in India and other countries that justifiably require access for security reasons.
But that puts BlackBerry in a bind.
BlackBerry cannot forego growth markets such as India, the Middle East and others. Last year, RIM grew 40 percent mainly on the strength of new international markets. But to retain these markets, RIM will have to meet security demands of compromised regions such as South Asia and the Middle East.
However, RIM cannot compromise its highly secure corporate mail and messaging systems, without jeopardizing developed markets such as the U.S. and Canada where a large number of executives depend on the BlackBerry service for security as well as speed. Even if it is remotely perceived as compromising its security and privacy, BlackBerry could go down quickly. That is not a prospect Lazaridis would want, given the fact the RIM already is fighting for survival against the threat from iPhone and Android phones.
Lazaridis walked out of the BBC interview because he has no answers to his company’s stand in India, and other countries, and he has no answers to what BlackBerry should do to survive. Clearly, at least one (big) BlackBerry boy is not as cool as his company’s ads suggest. Lazaridis is hot under the collar and, worse, showing it, too.
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