BlackBerry beefs up Android and iOS device management: Is BES now its crown jewels?

The latest version of BlackBerry's mobile device software extends its management of Android and iOS devices as enthusiasm for its own handsets fades.
Written by Steve Ranger, Global News Director

BlackBerry's management software is seen by many as one of the company's biggest assets, especially after its first batch of BlackBerry 10 smartphones failed to excite.

BlackBerry's new CEO John Chen acknowledged as much in a letter to customers earlier this week when he said "We know that BlackBerry devices are not for everyone. That's OK," as part of an attempt to persuade customers to stick with BES despite being wooed by rivals "enticing you to switch off your BES".

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The company on Tuesday released the latest version of its mobile device management package, BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) 10.2, which it said is being tested by companies including Morgan Stanley, Boeing and Aneurin Bevan University Health Board, as part of an 'early adopter' programme.

As BlackBerry's share of the smartphone market continues to decline, the company is increasingly highlighting its ability to manage devices running OSes other than just its own: as well as managing BlackBerry devices for business customers, BES 10 also provides security for devices, apps and content across iOS and Android devices, from a single console.

BlackBerry said BES 10 now supports 100,000 devices per domain, with any mix of BlackBerry, iOS and Android devices.

BES 10.2 expands options for IT administrators to create activation and application distribution rules for employees' iOS and Android devices, without requiring a server upgrade, according to the company.

It said the BYOD Enrolment for iOS and Android functionality allows IT to manage only the Secure Work Space container on iOS and Android devices, meaning users can still keep their personal data and apps out of the IT department's hands.

BlackBerry said so far customers have installed nearly 30,000 BES 10 commercial and test servers around the world. In late September that number stood at around 25,000.

While enthusiasm for BlackBerry has waned in recent years as it has been overtaken by Android and iOS in the consumer smartphone market, a loyal hardcore of longstanding business customers are still using BlackBerry handsets and the company's device management software.

For example, in October, BlackBerry said that KPMG in Italy had purchased 3,500 BlackBerry 10 smartphones and was migrating to BES 10. It also said half of companies listed on the German DAX exchange companies are "testing or committed to using" BES 10, as were 90 percent of German federal state governments. In the UK, BlackBerry said a third of FTSE 100 companies have installed BES 10, and "the majority" of Fortune 500 companies have BlackBerry Enterprise Service 10.

While BlackBerry was recently up for sale, the company has since entered an agreement to receive a $1bn "strategic investment" which the company said it represents a "vote of confidence" in its future. "Our 'for sale' sign has been taken down and we are here to stay," said Chen.

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