BlackBerry for enterprise: The comeback kid?

BlackBerry for enterprise: The comeback kid?

Summary: BlackBerry has largely been written off as too late to the next-gen mobile party. Is it that simple? I don't think so.


Most of my colleagues have written off the BlackBerry 10 launch as too little, too late and are concluding that the company has one foot in the grave and the other perilously close to a slippery bar of soap. I'll take a contrarian view.

Regardless of how many Android and iOS devices there are in the world, BlackBerry still has market share. More to the point and as Ewan Spence observes:

Take 2009, where Blackberry had 20 percent of the smartphone market share. That was on the strength of selling 35 million devices. Nowadays how much market share would 35 million get you? Around 5 percent of the market. Similar unit sales, but a vastly different perception of the performance.

I go one step farther. While there may be a concentration of attention on the notion of "bringing your own device" (BYOD) in the enterprise, I see plenty of corporate types toting their BB. They may well also use an iPhone or Android device but they often remain tethered (sic) to their BB. Quite how that is panning out today is an open question.

Back in October 2011, Jason Hiner reported that research indicated BB's enterprise market share in enterprises with more than 10,000 employees was likely to drop from 52 percent to 36 percent during 2012. I've not seen any up-to-date figures but even if share has dropped to say 25 percent, that's still a healthy market. Add in the fact BB is now device agnostic with the latest release of its enterprise services platform and you start to envisage a different outcome. Per Pedro Hernandez:

BES 10 features a fairly robust set of controls for non-BlackBerry devices, not counting Windows Phone.

In the case of iOS devices like iPhone and iPad, BES 10 allows administrators to disable cloud services, require strong passwords, and impose encryption on data backups. Organizations can even opt to silence Siri, a measure that IBM took last year over data-privacy and security concerns. All told, administrators can exert some level of control over most iOS functions, including camera and video functions, security certificates, cloud services, network connectivity, app purchasing, and social media.

Support for Google's Android mobile operating system is limited in comparison. BES 10 enables administrators to enforce password policies, hide the default camera app, and encrypt internal storage. It also supports TouchDown, software that provides Exchange sync services on Android.

On the messaging front, the software supports ActiveSync Gatekeeping to enable access to Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 on both iOS and Android.

OK, so BB isn't quite there, and with device-management competitors popping up left and right, you have to ask whether BB's software and services incumbency is enough to save the day. Larry Dignan thinks it comes down to platform monetization for which I read pricing but I am not as convinced.

Enterprise has plenty of experience with BB and especially its security model with which IT is usually comfortable. As is the case with other technology choices, IT is not given to taking what it sees as unnecessary risks. Even in a BYOD world, if BB can continue to convince IT that it is a safe choice then it has a decent shot at bolstering its flagging fortunes. However, it will need to roll out convincing case material as quickly as possible.

Elsewhere, Vinnie Mirchandani noticed that BB has stuffed its management ranks with telco and enterprise types. He sees this as a backdrop to an unhealthy lock-in for a vendor that hasn't done enough to remain competitive, even in enterprise. He concluded:

Blackberry may never (again) win the mobile features or the ecosystem wars, but if it can get the telcos and CIOs back in its camp, that is a sure way to survive and may be even thrive.

And then there is the developer issue. BB dropped off the developer radar a couple of years back as iOS and Android emerged as much easier and friendlier to build against. Today, BB is offering all sorts of incentives and bounties to get developers back on the train. Bribery--because that's what it is--has always been a good way to at least tempt developers, but my sense is that without insanely easy-to-use tools, the huge Apple/Android consumer markets will be too enticing for your average coder.

Building an eBay or CNN app for which monetization possibilities are slim is no incentive at all. My concern is that there are simply too few mobile developers with enterprise experience who can figure out how to monetize in a broader market. Far safer to stick to building for specific enterprise requirements and businesses than take the risk of inventing something drop-dead gorgeous for a modest or uncertain payback.

As the old saying goes: It ain't over until the fat lady sings, and regardless of the pontifications coming from armchair quarterbacks, only BB really knows how good (or bad) its latest efforts are shaping up. With Mobile World Congress (MWC) coming up toward the end of February, there will be plenty of opportunity to explore this topic further.

Topics: Mobile OS, Enterprise Software, BlackBerry, Bring Your Own Device

Dennis Howlett

About Dennis Howlett

Dennis Howlett is a 40 year veteran in enterprise IT, working with companies large and small across many industries. He endeavors to inform buyers in a no-nonsense manner and spares no vendor that comes under his microscope.

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  • Talking of songs...

    I agree with you Dennis, I think BB definitely still has a lot going for it and is well entrenched in the enterprise market. I never followed the fad to switch to iPhones, but I know many who have (including UNIT4 colleagues since we run both!) and have regretted it.

    The new offering certainly looks interesting - I may have to misplace my current BB and apply for a new one!

    However, what about the appointing Alicia Keys as global creative director? Could turn out to be an incredibly brilliant move... or not!
    • Seriously?

      WHAT? Alicia Keys? And I thought that was a joke???!??
  • Mr Hewlett, you clearly are clueless about BB development

    "my sense is that without insanely easy to use tools, the huge Apple/Android consumer markets will be too enticing for your average coder"

    Mr. Howlett, my friend, you obviously have not even remotely investigated the tools BB has given to developers.

    Speaking as an Android dev who has ported to App World, you can either upload your APK to their site and it will repackage your Android app for you or you can add Blackberry Nature to your project, right click the project, click BlackBerry Tools then sign for App World. Can it get any easier?

    Add to that, there's native development in C++, Adobe AIR, HTML5.... In fact, BB is the EASIEST platform to write for because you literally don't have to learn anything new. AND you can write simultaneously for at least 2 platforms at the same time.
    • No

      Doesn't matter how easy it is. If there isn't money to be made, few developers are going to bother. Ads are a non-starter; Enterprise customers will never see them because they will be blocked. As far as the marketing apps, also, why bother? Enterprise will lock these devices down and not allow end users to install apps.
      beau parisi
      • Slow down and read

        @beau parisi

        His and my statement were not about making money off said apps (and for the record, you can actually make more in an environment like Blackberry where you don't have to fight for attention. It was like that in the early days of the Android Market as well).

        The issue was having "insanely easy to use tools" that he thinks don't exist and that hence "the huge Apple/Android consumer markets will be too enticing for your average coder".

        How much a developer can make is a completely different issue. The question here is: Are the tools to write for Blackberry easy enough to 'entice your average coder'?

        The answer is Yes. How much money can they make? That remains to be seen.
      • Also missing is the BB duality

        To be clear, not a fan boi, I actually want a Win8 phone, however, as a traveling consultant, who knows many others, who still have BB, the feature to have basically 2 systems, that never touch, is pretty nice.

        Since you will have admin rights over your personal side, this should not be an issue, so I think, and could certainly be wrong, that your comment is in error, and on both fronts.

        Enterprises will deploy standard apps, and they will also leverage the single device/support BYOD from a different perspective, by allowing you to buy it (cheaper) and link to the enterprise, or by providing it, and allowing you to use it as a personal device (read: FREE!)

        Interesting business model, for sure.
    • Not quite

      A couple if years back I tried in vain to get developers to build for BB. They all said the same thing - too hard, too much of a PITA. Now either I was being lied to (possibly) or they were too lazy or some other lame excuse but that was what I was told.
      • You're right about 'old' Blackberry

        It really was a pain. But Blackberry 10 is a new animal. Native language is C++ vs Java as it was before.

        But they've had great success with the port-a-thons. I didn't participate in the BB10 events but word is they're going to unify the Playbook OS and phone OS as BB10. So it should remain easy to get apps into Blackberry World.
    • Really?

      Is it that easy? The only thing holding me back from getting a Playbook is the potential lack of apps. If I can just get the apk and do that, I'm home free. I'm most concerned about games, and was concerned about it's ability to handle android games.
      David Friedland
      • Yup

        Handles Android games just fine. And with the latest update, beyond swyping from the top down to bring up the equivalent of the Menu in Android, you can't tell you're running an Android app.
        • Thanks

          That is awesome news! The Playbook is an amazing piece of hardware, and insanely underpriced now. Glad to know that it is going to not be just a fancy brick!
          David Friedland
  • Balanced Piece

    Great job. Enterprise is still BB's domain - and from the sounds of this phone it will retain much of its base.
    The lack of (real, native) apps will certainly limit the Consumer adoption rate. But coming to the smartphone party this late, BB was never going to win in that space. At best they will fight it out with MS for #3.
    beau parisi
  • BlackBerry 10 debut bombs : already front page on msn
    • MSN? Isn't that a clue?

      They would say that, wouldn't they?

      And it wasn't a news item, it was a blog.

      The new device hasn't bombed ... neither has it changed the world. Blackberry don't need false positives or false negatives. They need fair comment. Maybe I'm dreaming ....
  • But they are turning thier back on enterpirse

    by the fact that the BES 10 environment will not be able to control BB7 and earlier devices, you have to run old and new BES in parallel, so it is essentially telling all organisations to make a choice, as either way they need a new management consoles.... so most will move away from BB.
    • Liar

      You are a big liar. no real business man toy with first class security.
  • Hmmm ... my enterprise-class organization was once a big BES customer

    We started BYOD in 2005 (a year after we moved to BlackBerry BES lock, stock, and barrel.) a couple of years later, Microsoft released ActiveSync - which does most of what BES does.

    Today, BES participation is down to 10% of what it was at its peak. As of January 2013, my employer is taking no new BES clients. Since BlackBerry 10 can use ActiveSync, our BES service will not be upgraded to BES 10 so BlackBerry owners among our employees have until December 2014 to replace their current BlackBerry devices with BlackBerry 10, or something else. BlackBerry owners currently pay their carriers a 50% premium for BES connectivity.

    I am one of those BlackBerry owners who must soon decide to which device I will move. I'd be very surprised if I moved to BlackBerry 10. Windows Phone looks much more attractive.

    Since users can turn to ActiveSync on whatever SmartPhone they want - including BlackBerry 10, RIM (now BlackBerry) will likely have a lot fewer BES 10 customers than they did BES customers. Similarly they will not have that extra income from carriers.

    In other words, keeping the customers they currently have (down 90% where I work) will still mean a drop in income from lost BES subscibers, and lost data fees form the carriers.
    M Wagner
  • Let it die a dignified death

    Would never have another BB device, poor battery life, awful apps (including the ZDNET one that needs reinstalling to keep updating) and the terrible outages to services over the last few years. I don't care how pretty it is, they have had their chances......
    • Really?

      Poor battery life? Are you sure you owned a BB? My BB had fantastic battery life, I could get close to a week on a single charge. That's one thing I sorely miss about my BB. No smart phone today comes close to that, most of them get one day if you're lucky. I don't expect this model to get the epic battery performance of my old BB but I hope it's at least better than the modern crop of phones.

      When you looked on the back of the "BB" you said you had, did it have a picture of an apple with a bite out of it? That would explain why you had battery issues.
  • All depends how you define success ...

    The article is upbeat about Blackberry's prospects, but on closer inspection, you seem to define 'success' as 'another year, at least'.

    The article says nothing that would imply future growth; and their market share is now tiny.

    I'm not saying it's not good - it may be. But it's too late; with no claim to a wider market, their loyal customers must increasingly question that loyalty. We're still talking managed decline, without even a white knoght on the horizon.