Q&A: Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie, co-chief executives at RIM

The two top executives at RIM discuss smartphones, the competition posed by netbooks and the future of the BlackBerry.

Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis share the role of chief executive at BlackBerry smartphone maker Research In Motion (RIM). We sat down with them both to discuss how the rise of the budget netbook will affect the mobile device market and what matters for mobile data.

What trends do you see in the smartphone market?

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Jim Balsillie: Clearly the sector is going through a very expansive phase. People are doing more and more with online wireless terminals on both the enterprise and on the consumer side; the networks are getting more powerful, the multimedia aspects are getting more powerful, the applications are getting more interesting and creative and the enablers like Wi-Fi and GPS are getting better. And then the carriers are getting more aggressive and smart.

It's all part of this everything is a packet' trend; having packets pushed, cached and rendered on my belt brings great benefit and meaning to individuals and organisations if thoughtfully done and - if thoughtfully done - has big consequences.

More and more companies have to spend on smartphones because that's the path to productivity in challenging economic times, and for youth it's a more and more important part of their discretionary spending. But I believe we're still at the early stages in very rich and contextualised and value-added platform evolution for both working and the non-working [uses].

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Is the smartphone a computer you hold in your hand, just a different interface to the same things you do on a PC, or is it a radically different thing?

JB: It's radically different. It has to be else you're forever framed by legacy. The PC was born in a distributed computing world, where you presuppose that you have no connection or very occasional connections, and the unit has to survive, compute and synchronise on its own.

Whereas the mobile device evolved from something you hold up to your ear; the first principle is does it last a day' and can I hold it up to my ear'? It came from a very different world. You're unlikely to hold a PC up to your ear and it's unlikely to last all day.

For example, SAP on BlackBerry is about push: pushing leads, pushing approvals and natively integrating into the device. You put in call notes right after a call because it's event based, it's collaboration based. It presupposes a communication link back to terabytes of data and it only stores locally for occasional out-of-coverage use or just efficiency; I'll cache up contacts and calendars and a month of email because I may be on a plane. But all the computing power goes to managing efficiency of the link and managing the presentation.

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It's really a pretty thin terminal; think communications, presentation and cache, not distribution computing, database synchronisation and complex applications. All the complexity is back at the servers, whether it's behind the corporate firewall or in the cloud.

Mike Lazaridis: We weren't trying to replace the laptop PC; we were trying to extend the information out to the mobile environment. We always claim that's a unique experience that needs to be provided in a unique way.

If we were just trying to put out the traditional PC experience, we'd need a traditional PC. You need a graphics controller, you need a large screen, you need a large keyboard, you need a large battery; in most cases you'll need a fan. You can't get around that.

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