RIM's enterprise fortifications are strong, but Apple's iPhone and Google's Android are quickly encroaching on their territory, lacking only a few key strategic features that could ultimately spell defeat for the Canadian smartphone manufacturer.
Yesterday, in an attempt to regain market relevance, the Canadian smartphone manufacturer Research In Motion (RIM) announced its BlackBerry 9800 Torch, its latest entry in the ever-escalating mobile wars.
The new phone, which is currently exclusive to AT&T Wireless, is the first to sport BlackBerry OS 6, which features a modern Webkit-based mobile browser that finally brings it to relative parity with the iPhone's Mobile Safari and Android's built-in browser. The updated RIM OS on the Torch also features social networking integration and better integrated search capabilities.
Two of RIM's more recent models, the Bold 9700 and 9650 will shortly receive software updates that will bring them to feature parity with the Torch.
Still, even with this significant new software update, industry insiders, press and analysts have been cold to the new device, citing the lower-resolution display when compared to the iPhone 4 and newer Android devices (such as the Droid Incredible, Droid X and HTC EVO 4G) as well as lack of on-board memory and a relatively slow ARM processor.
To add insult to injury, the latest market analysis from Nielsen indicates that many current consumer BlackBerry owners are considering Android or iPhone smartphones to replace their current devices when their wireless contracts expire.
Additionally, another market research group, Port Washington, New York-based NPD, which monitors POS activity from retail purchases of smartphones in the consumer space, has reported that Motorola and HTC, the two largest Android manufacturers, both drove Google's OS to a 33 percent market share in Q2 2010 for smartphone sales.
More than fifty percent of current BlackBerry users polled by Nielsen indicated they were likely to purchase a handset other than a new RIM device (Graphic: San Jose Mercury News)
While this is certainly a serious problem for consumer RIM growth, the BlackBerry remains a secure messaging bastion within large Enterprise environments. For now, at least.
BlackBerry is strong in enterprises because many of them have made an investment in BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) which acts as an extranet messaging gateway between corporate Exchange/Lotus Notes servers and RIM's network operations centers, and allows for secure "push" of email traffic to the wireless devices.
Additionally, BES allows wireless administrators within corporate environments to set IT policy on the handsets such as increased levels of encryption, forced password locks and retention.
However, BES is an expensive software product and service, and many organizations are clamping down on BlackBerry use and only issuing the devices to senior management or employees with a demonstrated business need.
Others are also beginning to embrace a "Bring your own device" approach, where employee-purchased BlackBerries are being permitted provided that the data plans or even the monthly BES fees incurred by corporate chargebacks are covered by the employees themselves.
Today, Google's Android and Apple's iOS support Exchange Messaging and their encryption is generally considered to both be "good enough", but they lack the flexibility, the guaranteed push delivery and the policy control of a BES-based environment.
To be able to fully displace RIM's octopus-like grip on corporate wireless messaging, and to join the "Bring your own device" movement, both Google and Apple or even the Android handset vendors themselves are going to have to step up to the plate.
A clone of BES and/or a secure messaging software layer for Android and iOS is going to be required in order for large enterprises to do away with BlackBerries. While a third party could step in to fill the gap for both types of devices, it's more likely that Apple itself and one of the Android handset vendors will have to provide the solution.
On the Android side, the obvious solution is to design a handset with integrated corporate-grade messaging software, essentially an "Armored Android" device or specialized software layer that replaces the standard Android consumer email software bits.
Ideally it would also use encrypted, user inaccessible storage on the Android devices themselves, combined with some sort of physical or virtual appliance that is run within the enterprise to act as a messaging gateway.
There are only a scant few Android handset manufacturers with the expertise to do this -- one of which is Motorola, which could create a special Enteprise software layer, appliance and service for their Droids along with the required policy management.
And while not a handset player itself, CISCO could also potentially build a hardware or software appliance combined with a secure corporate messaging app for both Android and iOS.
Apple could certainly build corporate-grade security and gateway software itself, but it would behoove itself to partner with CISCO or another major network security firm to develop a truly enterprise-grade solution.
Will Google and Apple step up to the plate and displace RIM's stranglehold on corporate enterprise messaging for smartphones? Talk Back and Let Me Know.