BlackBerry's PlayBook tablet chief set to leave company

The head of BlackBerry's (NASDAQ:BBRY) PlayBook tablet division is leaving the company, and his departure comes less than a month after CEO Thorsten Heins announced that BlackBerry would not upgrade to the device to its latest software, effectively orphaning the gadget.

David Smith, an executive vice president in charge of mobile computing, has resigned for personal reasons, a BlackBerry spokesman told the Wall Street Journal, which reported that the change happened within the past few weeks, according to an unnamed source. Smith "continues to come into work every day and is committed to working with BlackBerry through a proper transition."

Smith has been with the company for eight years and was put in charge of the PlayBook program a few months after the device launched in 2011. PlayBook was never the success BlackBerry hoped it would be, and in its initial debut was marred by what reviewers and analysts considered a lack of core features, including the lack of a native email client. The device also was not a hit with U.S. wireless carriers. In 2012 BlackBerry wrote down nearly $500 million in unsold PlayBook inventory.

In late June, Heins indicated that the PlayBook was not going to be a key part of the company's plans moving forward. "Our teams have spent a great deal of time and energy looking at solutions that could move the BlackBerry 10 experience to PlayBook. But unfortunately, I am not satisfied with the level of performance and user experience, and I made the difficult decision to stop these efforts and focus on our core hardware portfolio," Heins said during the company's last earnings conference call, according to a Seeking Alpha transcript. "We will, however, support Playbook on the existing software platforms and configurations."

The company shipped 100,000 PlayBook tablets in the fiscal first quarter, down from 370,000 in the fiscal fourth quarter and 260,000 in the year-ago period.

Separately, BlackBerry confirmed it cut 250 jobs related to research and development. "These employees were part of the New Product Testing Facility, a department that supports BlackBerry's manufacturing and R&D efforts," spokesman Alex Kinsella told AllThingsD. "This is part of the next stage of our turnaround plan to increase efficiencies and scale our company correctly for new opportunities in mobile computing." The company slashed around 5,000 jobs in 2012 as part of restructuring efforts.

BlackBerry is reportedly working on a new high-end smartphone, rumored to be called the A10, and rumors have indicated that at least Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) and Sprint (NYSE:S) will support it. The A10 will reportedly sit at the top of BlackBerry's smartphone portfolio, pushing the already-launched Z10 and Q10 to the middle tier and the recently announced Q5, which is aimed at the emerging markets, to the low tier.

During BlackBerry's annual investor conference earlier this month, shareholders questioned Heins about the company's troubles in the U.S. market. One investor even called the U.S. launch of BlackBerry 10 "a disaster." Heins disagreed with that investor's characterization but admitted that the U.S. market is very competitive. Heins argued that BlackBerry is still in the early stages of recovery.

For more:
- see this WSJ article (sub. req.)
- see this The Verge article
- see this CTV News article
- see this AllThingsD article

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