Understanding the realities of both the hardware and software markets, BlackBerry has given IT more options for managing its latest devices.
The company will open up its BlackBerry 10 operating system application programming interfaces (API) to allow IT pros to use mobile device management (MDM) platforms outside of BlackBerry Enterprise Service (BES) to manage BlackBerry 10 devices or later.
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The decision could be a smart survival move, according to Craig Mathias, mobile analyst at Farpoint Group in Ashland, Massachusetts.
[BlackBerry] is trying to keep the line alive so it's worth something to somebody.
Craig Mathias, mobile analyst, Farpoint Group
"I don't think they are going to be a major [handset] supplier and they know that," Mathias said. "What they're doing is trying to keep the line alive so it's worth something to somebody."
Sales for BlackBerry 10 devices have lagged since the smartphones were introduced in 2013. Of the 3.4 million BlackBerry smartphones sold in the fourth quarter of 2013, 2.3 million were older BlackBerry 7 models.
Smartphone market share long owned by BlackBerry has been gobbled up in recent years by competitors that run Apple's iOS, Google's Android and Microsoft's Windows Phone.
It's no help that major tech providers offer deals to pull BlackBerry customers away, like Citrix's offer to provide its new Workspaces Suite for enterprise app management at a 25% discount for those who migrate from their BlackBerry devices.
Can BlackBerry make up ground?
The move could be a welcome addition for admins that still use BlackBerry devices. At last week's Citrix Synergy conference, some IT professionals said they'd like to see BlackBerry 10 support in Citrix's XenMobile enterprise mobility management (EMM) platform.
BlackBerry has shifted its focus from hardware to software and services, so opening its APIs raised some eyebrows. BlackBerry touts its own device management platform with BES 10, and a new version, BES 12, is expected later this year.
Abell Pest Control in Toronto used BlackBerry devices and BES before switching to AirWatch, and later transitioned to an environment without BlackBerry. Before going BlackBerry-free, managing the devices with AirWatch was difficult, according to Norm Waslynchuk, Abell's IT director.
"You couldn't provision the devices or push applications out to the devices," he said.
While the move may not entice Abell to return to BlackBerry, it could be a step in the right direction for a company that has lots of ground to make up with its competitors.
"It's getting in line with what the whole industry is doing, and if you're looking at these devices as more commodity-type devices … it's going to [be] more helpful for them than hurtful," Waslynchuk said.
BlackBerry, BES 10 remain enterprise options
One company looked at MDM providers such as AirWatch and MobileIron before choosing BES 10. It worked for them in terms of cost and gave IT the control they wanted over the devices, according to Mike Philip, facilities and wireless program manager at Volker Stevin, a utilities and highway construction company in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
When Volker Stevin rolled out its BlackBerry Z10 devices to about 300 employees, the company only received two complaints from users, one who wanted a keyboard and another who wanted an Android, according to Philip.
"If you want to play, an Apple is fine, and if you want every app in the world, an Android is great, but if you want to work, you can't beat a BlackBerry," Philip said.
Opening up its BlackBerry 10 APIs to other management vendors doesn't change the equation for Volker Stevin because BES was more cost-effective than its other options. Volker Stevin is using a BES license that costs $19 per device per year. In contrast, the least expensive AirWatch EMM platform is $51 per device per year, while XenMobile is licensed per-user or per-device for an annual or perpetual term, starting at $50 per year per device, or $65 per year per user.
"All of the MDMs out there pretty much do the same thing, so being more cost-effective is a huge advantage for larger clients with hundreds or thousands of devices," Philip said.
Volker Stevin's BlackBerrys are all corporate-issued. Non-BYOD (bring your own device) organizations like his could be a target for BlackBerry as it loses market share in handsets to competitors.
BlackBerry has a good product with BES 10, but it's a much different business model than handsets, with lots of competition and very rapid technological change, according to Mathias.
"That change creates an opportunity, but we're not seeing a change in handsets, and they can't be a player there," he said.
MDM is no longer a meaningful point of differentiation between companies, according to an interview with John Sims, BlackBerry's president of global enterprise services.
Providing the market with a range of both devices and MDM platforms is beneficial for everyone, as BlackBerry's goal is to remain a top EMM player with its security credentials, Sims said.
BlackBerry said it is in the early stages of developing the open MDM APIs with third-party vendors and a timeframe for its availability is still being discussed.
BES 12 is expected to add Windows Phone 8 support, in addition to existing support for BlackBerry, iOS and Android. Next year, BlackBerry plans to unveil a multi-tenant cloud version of BES 12. While debuting its new Z3 smartphone in Indonesia this week, the company also plans to ship a new QWERTY keyboard phone, the Q20, this year.