How BlackBerry is riding iOS and Android to power its comeback

The very factor that decimated BlackBerry over the past five years is now becoming one of the most important catalysts in its turnaround.
Written by Jason Hiner, Editor in Chief on

While a fresh new generation of BlackBerry phones fight a ferocious battle for third place in the smartphone race, BlackBerry's other big business remains in a great position in its red-hot market, Mobile Device Management (MDM). At BlackBerry Live 2013 in Orlando this week, the company rolled out a major update to BlackBerry Enterprise Service (BES) and deepened its commitment to making BES a multiplatform solution that now deeply secures its two leading smartphone competitors.

Ironically, the trend that brutally undercut BlackBerry phones during the past five years—the "bring your own device" (BYOD) movement—is now driving significant sales of BES, the company's backend software. At BlackBerry Live, the company released version 10.1 of BES. BES 10.1 will support a powerful new module that will launch at the end of June called Secure Work Space, which brings BlackBerry's high security mobile solution to Android and iOS. 

"Our customers have been asking, 'Can you just take what you've done on BlackBerry and put it on iOS and Android?'" said Pete Devenyi, BlackBerry's SVP of Enterprise Software. 

While older versions of BES could do some basic administration of non-BlackBerry smartphones like iPhone, Android, and other types of devices, the solution was limited to the basics, including a full remote wipe of devices when those employees left the company. But, that's obviously not a great solution with BYOD where employees own the devices. With Secure Work Space, BlackBerry will manage iOS and Android devices in a much more sophisticated and secure way. 

Part of that is due to the fact that BES 10 not only does mobile device management, but also does mobile application management, and secure mobile connectivity as well. This triple play raises the bar on manageability. One of the key factors that makes all of this happen in BES 10 is a module called BlackBerry Balance that cleanly separates work and personal data and applications. For example, you can't copy and paste between work and personal data and in a BYOD situation where an employee leaves the company and IT needs to wipe the business data off the device then it can wipe the work side of the phone without affecting the former employee's personal data.

However, BlackBerry Balance is limited to BlackBerry devices because they are designed from the ground up to function this way and to adhere to this security model. Because of that, BlackBerry can't bring Balance to Android and iOS because those operating systems are simply architected differently. But, BlackBerry is doing the next best thing by bringing a lot of these same features to iOS and Android with Secure Work Space. 

"With Secure Work Space, it really is a secure container," said Devenyi. 

Image: Jason Hiner

Secure Work Space will be an app in the Apple App Store and Google Play, pending approval from Apple and Google, respectively. It will include secure email, calendar, contacts, tasks, and document editing. It won't allow data leakage including copy and paste between Secure Work Space and the rest of the device. IT will be able to remotely wipe everything in the Secure Work Space without affecting any of the other apps or data on the person's device, in a BYOD scenario.

"It really is about the separation of work data and personal data," Devenyi said. "It supports a BYOD model much more directly."

Another thing that Secure Work Space does is to create a fully encrypted tunnel back to the BES 10 server so that all communications from it are secure, even if you're on an insecure connection such as an Internet cafe or public Wi-Fi. In the past, you'd typically need to launch a VPN tunnel in order to accomplish that, but Secure Work Space does it automatically and at all times.

Devenyi said, "There's no need for a VPN. It's a [continually] secure outbound port"

The combination of secure data and apps and a secure connection turns BYOD Android and iOS smartphones and tablets into highly secure business devices. That's what BlackBerry is bringing to market at the end of Q2, built on top of BES 10.1. 

"For the first time, a solution on Android and iOS can benefit and take advantage of the BlackBerry infrastructure and BlackBerry security model," said Devenyi.

BlackBerry does not split out BES revenue from its revenue from smartphones, but clearly it's a much more attractive business than the commodity mobile hardware business. And, Devenyi said that BlackBerry is seeing "exploding" demand for MDM solutions to manage BYOD. 

In its latest analysis of the MDM market, Gartner corroborated that perspective saying, "MDM is the fastest-growing enterprise mobile software ever (in terms of number of suppliers, revenue growth and interest from Gartner clients)."

That growth is fueling a crowd of companies to jump into MDM, but BlackBerry is one of the creators of the category and one of the most trusted names in mobile security. The fact that many of the companies that need MDM for BYOD have previously relied on BlackBerry and BES to manage their mobile devices provides the company with an excellent opportunity to become a market leader in securing for iOS and Android for BYOD. The irony is obvious, but don't underestimate how much this could potentially fuel BlackBerry's comeback, no matter what BlackBerry devices do.

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