The CEO of BlackBerry today admitted the launch of its BlackBerry 10 mobile operating system and the accompanying Z10 handset made the firm lose focus on the enterprise and damaged its relationship with its business customer base.
John Chen, former head of Sybase, was appointed as CEO in November last year following the ousting of former leader Thorsten Heins after a failed takeover bid by BlackBerry's largest shareholder, Fairfax Financial Holdings.
During a press briefing at this week's Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona, Computer Weekly asked Chen whether his predecessor's focus on the consumer market had damaged BlackBerry's reputation with enterprises, and he admitted there was "a certain truth to that statement".
"It is not about us leaving the enterprise customers before my time, but I think it is about us spreading ourselves a little too thin," he said.
Chen explained the reasons for the perceived failure of the BB10 operating system (OS) – launched in January 2013 – calling it a "very, very good technology", but one that was too complex for the user.
"BB10 took me a while to get used to, but once I got used to it I loved it. But that is key... it took me a while to get used to," he said.
Read more about BlackBerry
"Most consumers when they get a new phone, if it is not intuitively obvious, they get a little gun shy and therefore they don't want to continue with that phone. I think that is the number one thing we did; we did not do enough in educating the market."
However, even if it had been more successful, Chen still believed it was the wrong focus for the brand.
"We spread ourselves too thin and we were so preoccupied with launching that phone [the Z10] in that market, that we have done some damage, in my mind, to our enterprise focus," he said. "That is not going to be any more. That has been done."
The interview came on the same day BlackBerry made a number of key announcements around its most popular enterprise solution, BlackBerry Enterprise Server, or BES.
John Sims, the company's recently appointed head of enterprise, took to the stage at MWC to confirm a new version – BES 12 – would be out before the end of the year and feature support not just for BlackBerry, iOS and Android, but also Windows Phone.
He also pledged support for other endpoint devices to encourage the growing trend of the internet of things and a simplified two-tier pricing structure – Silver at $19 per user per year and the full Gold suite for $60 per user per year.
BlackBerry wants to win back the enterprise users it has lost and as a result is offering customers the opportunity to trade in their licences with rival firms and get the remaining time for free with BES 12. Users of older versions of BES will be able to upgrade for free.
The company also announced an enterprise version of its BBM messaging platform would be coming before the summer, offering businesses a way to have secure messaging in their own environments and giving BlackBerry a much-needed method of monetising the popular service.
BlackBerry gave us more of a glimpse to the future with the promise of a new qwerty keyboard handset – the Q20 – which is set to bring back the belt at the top with the trackpad, enter key, etc.
Chen lovingly called it "the BlackBerry classic" to the dismay of his PR team, but it was clear the device was again targeting the more traditional business users who critics claim BlackBerry left behind. The Q20 is due to launch by the end of the year.