Quocirca's Straight Talking: The future of BlackBerry

A few challenges ahead but overall the outlook is bright for RIM...

A few challenges ahead but overall the outlook is bright for RIM...

The Blackberry is a hit with the VIP wireless email crowd. But, asks Quocirca's Dale Vile, can RIM translate this into success with the corporate masses?

Wireless email is catching on amongst senior managers and professionals and the Blackberry is their favourite device.

The popularity of the Blackberry was confirmed by a recent Quocirca study in which about 30 per cent of the European corporates and larger public sector organisations interviewed told us they were actively using Blackberry-based email. Furthermore, almost 60 per cent of non-users had a positive view of this easy to implement and compelling solution from Research in Motion (RIM).

But the wireless email market is far from mature. While 90 per cent of those claiming to have rolled out email broadly on handhelds were Blackberry users, this sub-set represented less than 10 per cent of the total interview sample.

We must also bear in mind that 'broad rollout' in this context generally means deployment to high value employees such as senior managers and other well paid professionals, rather than the general population of mobile phone users. RIM is thus leading the charge and is by far the market leader but it is still just scratching the surface of a market that is evolving rapidly.

Quocirca sees three dimensions to this evolution that are relevant when assessing the position of RIM.

Firstly, there is the question of the target user base. As stated, the vast majority of activity today is in the form of small-scale pilots and limited rollouts to VIP users, spread thinly across the corporate and public sectors. Yet most IT managers we talk with tell us that the end-game is likely to be broad deployment on commodity devices to the more general mobile phone user community - i.e. to make email access a standard feature of business supplied mobile phones.

This is quite a bit removed from traditional Blackberry-based projects, however, and the fact that the device is now often regarded as a status symbol in management and professional circles underlines its current misalignment with broader deployment to the rank and file.

The second important consideration is the quite natural evolution of wireless activity to embrace other corporate applications beyond email. Quocirca research tells us that early adopters of wireless generally see email as just the starting point for their journey towards full enterprise mobility. In fact, the business case for deploying wireless technology in relation to line-of-business applications such as sales force automation, service management and logistics is often viewed as much more tangible.

This implicitly raises the question of whether a wireless email platform installed today should be capable of supporting other application types in the future. Blackberry, which has traditionally been thought of as a single function solution, has been called into question in this respect.

The third big consideration is the love-hate relationship between RIM and its main channel to market - the mobile operator community. On the one hand, operators of all sizes have benefited from the market pull of the Blackberry brand. On the other hand, this brand strength has a tendency to smother the operator's brand and has given RIM a degree of leverage when negotiating commercial terms and defining approaches to service delivery that many operators regard as too high. The operators therefore have a motivation to introduce alternative wireless email solutions that could inevitably dilute RIM's power.

So will these developments undermine RIM's future viability and the investments of those that have already made a commitment to Blackberry-based solutions?

This might seem the case at first glance but RIM is a company run by smart people who anticipated some of these developments a while back. It is therefore no coincidence that RIM has made a couple of moves aimed at enabling broader access to a customer's BES (Blackberry Enterprise Server)-based infrastructure, for example.

The first was the introduction of the Blackberry Connect OEM program, which enables traditional mobile phone manufacturers to licence and embed the Blackberry client software into their devices. The second was the release of the Blackberry 7100 series, which looks like and is priced closer to a traditional business mobile phone. These moves potentially allow more choice for customers who need a mix of devices with different levels of functionality at different price-points to support a broader rollout strategy.

But some would argue that this still doesn't go far enough. When Vodafone recently announced a Blackberry-competitive email offering, based on the Visto platform, part of the rationale it gave was that customers were demanding more device options.

Indeed, the selection of appropriate devices was cited as the biggest challenge to scaling up wireless investments in our research study. This is understandable as the mobile device space is one of the most dynamic in the technology industry, making IT managers wary of constraints in this area. Solutions that are inherently device agnostic (i.e. that do not rely on manufacturer pre-installation) from players such as Visto, Intellisync, Good Technology, Sybase and IBM are therefore likely to receive more attention over time.

Many such solutions were also conceived as generic mobile platforms from the outset, designed with more than just mobile email in mind. This, along with armies of Microsoft .Net programmers who are now told they can use their existing skills to program for Windows Mobile devices, underlines RIM's challenge in breaking out of the 'email specialist' pigeon hole. RIM's counter to this is to point to its developer programme and the number of ISVs actively using Blackberry.

When all these factors are considered, we can conclude that life is going to get more challenging for RIM but any predictions of its imminent downfall would be wildly exaggerated. Blackberry is certainly not the best solution for every requirement but it has a lot of momentum and a strategy that addresses most of the concerns levelled at it. The key question for both RIM and its customers is therefore how well the Blackberry platform will fair beyond the VIP email pond.

A full report of the research referenced in this report may be requested free of charge on Quocirca's website.


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