Tuesday, December 3, 2013

BlackBerry is repositioning itself as a device management company—but is already being beaten by Google

BlackBerry recently published an open letter to its "valued enterprise customers and partners," to remind everyone that they "are very much alive, thank you." The newly-minted CEO, John Chen, makes an important—and telling—concession to the "new" mobile computing landscape: recognizing "that BlackBerry devices are not for everyone."

Unfortunately BlackBerry devices are losing ground faster than ever according to data released by Gartner last month. BlackBerry now sits at a mere 1.8% of the global smartphone market, compared with 5.2% at the same time last year.


As a result of their declining sales of smartphones to end users, BlackBerry is beginning to reposition itself to focus on a handful of what it sees as key areas: enterprise mobile management (EMM) solutions and embedded systems, as well as cross-platform instant messaging (BBM).

It's not hard to see why BlackBerry sees the need to pivot away from what has traditionally been its strength, but unfortunately it's pivoting straight into a marketplace where it's pricing itself out of contention. BlackBerry's enterprise management capability revolves around the BlackBerry Enterprise Service (BES), a software package that requires you to either manage an on-site server or pay for hosting one in the cloud, in addition to the $19 per year management fee. Add to that the fact that the newest version of BES (10.2) can't manage BlackBerry devices running older versions of the BlackBerry operating system and you need to double your server count just to be able to manage both generations of devices.

As if all that wasn't enough, the $19 license fee is charged per device, so if you have two devices, each one of them needs its own license fee. And who doesn't have a smartphone and a tablet these days? In fact, a Sophos survey says consumers are carrying an average of 2.9 mobile devices each.

Google Apps for Business and Education includes bring-your-own-device (BYOD) security for iOS, Android, and BlackBerry 10 in the $50 per user per year price tag—which includes activation on an unlimited number of mobile devices. We've tested management of BlackBerry 10 devices from the Google Apps console and it provides remote wipe and monitoring capabilities just as it would for any other device. There's really no need for a BES.

For about $12 more per year than two BES device fees per user, you can have an all-in-one, cloud-based productivity suite that includes BYOD management features and can replace your Exchange, Lotus Notes, or other email and documents solution. Sticking with BlackBerry means you're on the receiving end of all the IT headaches involved with patching, securing, and managing yet another server (or two!).

All of us at Interlock IT live close to BlackBerry headquarters in Waterloo and sincerely hope that they can find a successful market niche. BES 10.2 does have some advanced security features not found in other products. But the BYOD market is a highly competitive space already well-covered by giants like Google so BlackBerry has a tall, competitive mountain to climb.

Does anybody remember Palm?