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.

When you come to smartphones, it's a whole different ballgame. A smartphone, for one, has to provide a certain always-on battery life experience so that it's available for that important call that comes in from the boss, from a friend, a business associate or the babysitter. You can't afford to find out later that you didn't get the call because you were out of coverage or the battery was dead.

There are different compromises and different design issues. In the end they're two different animals. Smartphones are more like watches and pens and wallets; they're all personalised and they just work. Each of us wants to express different things when we pull out our smartphone and put it on the table. Individuality and status will continue to affect the design as well as performance and features.

As smartphones get more powerful, how do you continue to avoid the battery issues that PCs have?

ML: We went to 300MHz from 150MHz processors, then to 600MHz processors and beyond. Then we started adding MMX, high speed DSPs, dual cores and gigabytes of memory. Then Bluetooth 2.0, hi-speed USB and large amounts of flash media memory. And then we added Wi-Fi g and GPS, bright big displays with high resolution and finally HSUPA Doing all of that you're going to draw a lot of power!

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So all the homework you do as a device maker to minimise power consumption from day one will have payback in the future.

A lot of people are surprised that a 3G phone has less battery life than 2G phone. I think the big surprise that's still looming is that running always-on, always-connected in a push environment on 3G consumes even more power.

One of the big advantages we have is we wrote the 3G radio stack in our product, so we were able to come up with innovations like fast dormancy. That allows you to disconnect from the radio channel early. Normally you wouldn't do that, because if there is still information to come to you, that creates a lot of retries and the network would have to establish a new connection - and that uses more power. But if you wrote the entre stack, all the radio protocols and the applications, then you have an intimate knowledge of what's going on.

If you send a lot of little emails you end up consuming a lot of power waiting for TCP/IP ping packets and acknowledgements that never occur. As we can tell the other end we're done and the device is allowed to terminate the connection immediately, we save a lot of power. We claim it's at least double the battery life of a regular 3G device.

What are we going to see in future BlackBerrys? There's a flip BlackBerry and maybe a touch screen; will you be able to keep that iconic BlackBerry design?

JB: What's very important for how we see our world is that we believe BlackBerry is a highly managed convergence tunnel; it's reliable, it's global, it's scalable, it's secure.

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When it comes to the access terminal, our focus is on Java and J2ME. It's over the air for both application and application data it's very secure and invulnerable to viruses because of its structure.

Then we focus principally on the efficiency. You have a multivariant scarcity equation. Battery is limited, thermodynamics is a challenge, capacity of the network is a challenge, size is a challenge - I have but one belt to give, I have to hold it up to my ear. And of course cost is a variant. Unlike with Moore's Law which has one variant, where I double the processing power and memory every 18 months for the same price, we have five variants of scarcity. So we focus on efficiency.

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