Behind BlackBerry's do-or-die makeover is an Indian name

Pranay Parab Posted: Jan 31, 2013 at 0124 hrs
New Delhi As the 14-year-old BlackBerry launched its make-or-break product Wednesday evening, all eyes were on a 29-year-old: Vivek Bhardwaj. The head of Research in Motion’s software portfolio, the Indian-origin Bhardwaj is the face of BlackBerry 10.

On his Twitter profile (@vik 1on1), Bhardwaj calls himself “focused on all things software”. RIM at least is banking on that. Hit by iPhone and Android smartphones, BlackBerry has seen a massive downturn, with its market share in the US alone falling from 46 per cent in 2008 to 2 per cent last year. The launch of BB10 itself has been delayed many times. According to the Associated Press, the holdup has wiped out $70 billion in shareholder wealth and 5,000 jobs.

Last year, RIM CEO Thorsten Heins laughed off suggestions of a plan B, suggesting that the company is gambling on BB10 to restore its fortunes.

Bhardwaj joined RIM in December 2006 but it was only over the past 18 months that he came to take on core software responsibilities, after moving to Waterloo, Canada, from the UK.

He describes himself as a “British guy in Canada”, though as he told The Indian Express, his parents are of Indian origin. “My father was born in Punjab and migrated to the UK in the late ‘70s. My mother, also Indian, grew up in Kenya,” Bhardwaj said in an e-mail interview. He was himself born in the UK.

Always interested in computer technology, he did his graduation in information systems and design in the UK. This, he said, allowed to him understand software engineering, product design and architecture. He has worked with Siemens Mobile (till it shut in 2006) and had a brief stint with BenQ mobile before joining RIM.

During his time at the Canadian firm, he has worked on BlackBerry software on products like Pearl 8100, 8300, 8800 and the Storm franchise. Recently, he worked on the BlackBerry Playbook tablet, before taking on BB10.

Bhardwaj said he had seen a major turnaround from developers’ perspective since he started work on BB10. “With Alec Saunders (VP developer relations), Marty Mallick (VP global alliances) and their teams, we’ve been able to change perception on developing for BlackBerry. Amazing support from all over the world, and I’d say it’s a complete turnaround in this area, which I’m very pleased to see.”

While promising many India-specific applications on BlackBerry App World — India is a big BlackBerry market — Bhardwaj said the most challenging aspect for him about BB10 was integrating all features into a single experience. “This, however, has created our greatest opportunity. A user experience like no other platform and integration that we call BlackBerry Flow,” he said.

While BlackBerry phones are known for their physical QWERTY keyboards, the new platform attempts to offer a great typing experience on touchscreen devices. “Touch typing is important and so is physical keyboard typing. We want to deliver the world’s leading typing experience no matter if it’s touch or physical and you’ll continue to see both offerings from us for a while to come,” he said, adding, “If it helps, I wrote all of this on my BlackBerry 10 smartphone.”

BB10 previews have received favourable comments from bloggers and developers, but it remains to be seen whether consumers take to the new devices.

Bhardwaj appears confident. “If you’re hyper-connected, love to multi-task, then BlackBerry 10 is the mobile computing platform for you. With BlackBerry Hub, Flow, and Balance, you can achieve all of that and more,” he said.

About the lessons learnt, he added: “It is important to remain focused and to deliver on the promise of your brand and vision. Don’t allow competitors’ weakness to be your strengths, but understand what makes you unique, different and special.”