The last of our interviews with the BlackBerry folks at Mobile World Congress was Francois Mahieu, VP of Global Product Management. He walked us through BlackBerry's device strategy, which is timely given the announcement of the Z3 and the Classic Q20.
Mahieu outlined in broad strokes four major categories of phones from here on in. Starting at the lower end are devices like the Q5 and the new Z3. These are built for markets that thrive on off-contract pricing. The new Foxconn manufacturing deal, which Mahieu characterizes as long-term and beyond the five-year tagline, will eventually allow BlackBerry to turn around devices like this in under five months. Being able to use some components from other devices certainly helps BlackBerry accelerate this process from the pace we're used to. Though it may seem a little backwards to return to an old design, Mahieu pointed to the Volkswagon Golf and iPhone as designs that haven't changed much over time, but continue to sell.
The newly-announced Classic series is a different story, since there are quite a few things they need to implement to make it work with BlackBerry 10 software. This is why we won't see the classic series until later in 2014, though Mahieu was quick to remind us that we'll be seeing many more devices in this series in the future.
"Across the affordable phones, the classic designs, the new high end phones that are coming, and the prestige market, by and large, we consider these categories to stay."
Then there are the high-performing devices we all know and love, like the Q10 and Z30. Mahieu hinted that there's some good stuff in the wings. Though he couldn't go into specifics, our talk with John Sims hinted that we may see a device built for secure business situations. Finally, there are the luxury devices from the Porsche Design lineup. Mahieu confirms that BlackBerry will keep making them.
Despite this foundation for future devices, there's still a public sense of BlackBerry falling behind on specs. Mahieu feels that issues like the megapixel war have mostly reached a plateau, but there's still a challenge for BlackBerry when it comes to marketing its less flashy features.
"One of the challenges for BlackBerry is how you commercialize productivity features that are core to the usage of these BlackBerry users around the world, but very difficult messages to shout across. How easy is it to tell customers that you have a great battery?"
Mahieu went on to admit that it will take many more months to commercialize the productivity-driven features properly.
We also talked a bit about the app side of the equation. When we needled him about Google services support, Mahieu said Android app performance was about 85% - 90% of where they want to be. As for what this means for BlackBerry's tight marriage between hardware and software, Mahieu remained steadfast with their current direction.
"There's one thing we're absolutely clear as a company. There is an experience, a BlackBerry experience that makes it very, very different. That's why there are so many loyalists. In fact, I would think that there are only two brands in the world that have this loyal base. It's Apple and BlackBerry that have it. Therefore, we will never break that."
So don't worry about BlackBerry switching wholesale to Android any time soon.