Mike Lazaridis in 2008. Photo by textlad on Flickr. Some rights reserved
Mike Lazaridis, co-chief executive of RIM, has pitched up at the All Things D:Mobilized conference and confused utterly everyone, including possibly himself.
Sample headline from Gizmodo: "Can You Figure Out WTF RIM's CEO Is Talking About?"
Or Engadget, whose liveblog of the event is strewn with "Mike didn't really answer".
The "didn't really answer" interview is perplexing from the start. Lazaridis shows up with a - or possibly the - RIM PlayBook, its tablet that's going to launch.. when's it going to launch, Mike?
"We're tracking Q1."
Right, so.. sorry, does that mean you're launching it then, or what? That people will be able to track their deliveries from then?
Walt Mossberg: "But look, there's a growing consensus that your OS is dated. When will this [QNX OS on the PlayBook] become the new OS?"
Lazaridis: "By focusing on the tablet market, we see it as a way of freeing where smartphones can go."
Kara Swisher tries to help by asking "So the tablet is the phone?"
Lazaridis: "No, the tablet is what mobile computing is all about. In cases where we want a high performance smartphone, the tablet is perfect for it... A lot of markets are still on 2G. Even in 3G markets, BlackBerry is in its own space and becomes very popular. What the PlayBook allows us to do is jump into the next stage of mobile. In the US the PlayBook is perfectly targeted."
This may have been the point where they should have begun applying a headlock and an Indian burn. Instead Mossberg said "I'm a little confused. You said it will free the smartphone to focus on communication. You mean it will free you to not pay as much attention to apps and video and music on the phone?"
Lazaridis: "What I'm saying is that with BB 6 it's a great multimedia platform. But the difference is, rather than being all things to all people, we can present the best platform for the application. Full web, real multitasking... very few people can do it properly. The point here is in that environment, you can use it differently. But a 7inch screen is too big to be a phone."
Swisher: "So you're saying that the strategy of Google and Apple -- making the phone with video and audio, that's not the right direction?"
Lazaridis: "We're going to see different categories. You're going to see smartphones taking on multicore processing, you're going to see powerful tablets..."
At which Engadget throws up its hands: "He isn't making any sense at all. Quite literally, we don't know what Mike is talking about right now."
He does claim that "People want this [PlayBook] product" and that while it is building products "that meet the requirements for enterprise and government", that "...that appeals to the consumer".
The price for the PlayBook, you'll be glad to hear, will be "very competitive". But overall, it is a car crash of an interview. And it looks no better in Peter Kafka's liveblog (given that he works with the ATD team, so would be expected to go gentle on the guests: instead it's got "[sort of unclear what he's saying here]" and "Kara Swisher is also confused" and "Walt is confused as well". The Q+A comes over slightly more clearly in Kafka's writeup than others'. But overall, it seems like there isn't a non-confused person in the room.
Why does it matter? Because at a high-profile event like the ATD event, where corporate eyes are upon you, it really matters to be able to explain what your strategy is. Lazaridis signally failed to do that - which might not reassure corporations that are looking for a roadmap on the BlackBerry, or which are considering whether the PlayBook is for, well, play or serious work.
If you manage to extract any meaning from it all about where RIM is going, do let us know in the comments.