What I saw was encouraging. The company's CEO, John Chen, is an acknowledged turnaround specialist who's been nothing but frank about his plans for the company since taking over the job last November. He hit the ground running and has scored a number of early wins, including a landmark deal with hardware maker Foxconn to design and build handsets, and a just-announced partnership with Amazon to provide native access to the Amazon app store - and its 240,000 titles - to users of the upcoming BlackBerry 10.3 operating system. In person, he's incredibly sharp, personable and honest in a way other CEOs would do well to emulate.
The flailing of the past couple of years has given way to a more focused corporate attitude. Most of the fires of crashing market share and bleeding red ink have been put out. There's a strategic vision in place now to pursue the core enterprise business - the folks who loved BlackBerrys from the start - and exploit new business models in verticals like government, health care and automotive. The demos we saw of upcoming handhelds - including the Classic (kind of like an updated Bold for traditionalists) and the Passport (phablet-with-keyboard) were notable not necessarily because they highlighted new hardware, but because they showed the company is willing to take chances with new approaches and designs.
It wasn't as much about what we saw than it was about appreciating the new spirit, feel and culture of the company. The transition isn't anywhere near done yet, but we saw ample evidence that a very significant corner has been turned. Which, if you're a fan of Canadian tech innovation and the regions of the country that support it, is very good news.