ORLANDO---Research in Motion is moving to protect its base with a tour of enterprises to sell corporations on BlackBerry 10 as well as its mobile device management chops.
Given that a tour is underway---RIM has a few sessions at Gartner Symposium here to court CIOs---the company didn't need to be kicked around. But RIM did take a few shots on Monday. First, Gartner research chief Peter Sondergaard said that in two years there will be more Apple iPad devices than BlackBerries in corporations. Then, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) said in a solicitation document that it is choosing the iPhone over RIM's BlackBerry.
I caught up with Jeff Holleran, senior director, enterprise product management, and Vivek Bharwaj, head of RIM's software portfolio, to talk shop and the company's prospects.
First, Bharwaj said that Sondergaard's take on the iPad overtaking the BlackBerry needs to consider a bit more nuance. First, Bharwaj didn't see Gartner's assumptions, but the larger point is RIM isn't just a hardware vendor. It has multiple points of presence in corporations. In other words, devices don't tell the tale.
That non-answer has some truth to it. RIM's booth at the Gartner CIO powwow garnered interest even though the company had nothing to show. The crowd wasn't on the same level as the CIOs flooding Windows 8 demos or Splunk, but considering RIM is in a holding pattern the interest was solid.
My talk with Holleran and Bharwaj was pretty wide ranging. Here are the highlights.
- Neither executive was going to talk about when BlackBerry 10 devices were going to land in the first quarter exactly, but both were pleased with the early reaction from telecom providers, developers and customers.
- Given that Google recently killed Motorola's Webtop approach---a concept I liked but thought was too early---I asked Bharwaj whether RIM would try something similar. After all, BlackBerry 10 is supposed to be a computing platform and in the enterprise a smartphone as PC processor could work. He said:
The model itself is a viable one, but the hardware (laptop shell) wasn't affordable. There also needs to be an understanding of what people need in a mobile office. It's not the same thing as what's on the smartphone. QNX has that maturity to be on par with a desktop. From QNX we could build out a mobile office.
- Bharwaj painted a scenario where a BlackBerry could work in an hoteling arrangement in corporate offices and would plug into a dock and keyboard. Note that Bharwaj was thinking aloud. First, RIM needs the BlackBerry 10 rollout to be a success.
- On mobile device management (MDM) software, Holleran said RIM is converting pilots into production systems. BlackBerry Enterprise Server has 200,000 touch points. The majority of MDM has been BlackBerry devices, but RIM is now managing iOS and Android units too. Holleran added that BlackBerry 10's ability to use work and personal personas should satisfy workers and IT. Holleran, however, noted that there was some mixed emotions about having to manage other devices. He said:
The last thing we wanted to do was manage other devices, but customers asked for it. We know it's a heterogeneous world in the enterprise.
- Competing in MDM. Holleran said that there's a lot of fear uncertainty and doubt campaigns in the MDM space. For instance, customers are asking whether RIM will survive largely because an MDM startup has raised funding and is talking smack.
- The UI learning curve. BlackBerry 10's features are promising, but I asked Bharwaj about the learning curve. There are gestures that will be new and people are used to clicking icons all the time. "There's a lot of fatigue around clicking buttons," said Bharwaj. He added that the ability to do things with one hand on the BlackBerry will be a selling point. However, RIM, like Microsoft and Windows Phone, will have to retrain consumers. "For the existing base the learning curve won't be steep," said Bharwaj.
- Does hardware matter? I asked Bharwaj whether RIM had to do anything special with the hardware design to manufacture some kind of cool factor. He said he was confident that RIM's distinctive designs will continue to impress.
- RIM's churn factors. Bharwaj said RIM customers have left because of the supply of applications, the browser and touch interface. "We would not launch BlackBerry 10 if we didn't have those three boxes checked off," he said.