ORLANDO -- The last two years have been difficult for Research in Motion, but on Tuesday, the BlackBerry maker offered a glimpse of its next mobile operating system and new enterprise services that give IT pros reason to believe that the company can survive in an iPhone and Android dominated world.
Research in Motion (RIM) provided the BlackBerry 10 developer toolkit for native and HTML5 software development during the BlackBerry World 2012 conference here, exhibiting a new touch keyboard and other features that could keep the enterprise device relevant, even in BYOD shops.
Other products give some customers reason to believe that not all is lost for RIM. For example, BlackBerry Mobile Fusion provides expanded mobile device management capabilities for Android, iPhone and Windows Phone devices through BlackBerry Enterprise Server.
“RIM needs to play to its strengths [in enterprise] and not worry about the other stuff,” such as competing with Apple and Google, said Trevor Davis, co-founder of ZeroWire Labs, a Toronto-based mobile applications company.
Others who attended the show said that they like that RIM now allows third-party devices to utilize BlackBerry’s network operating center for push email. Show-goers were also impressed with BlackBerry Cloud Service, which integrates Microsoft Office 365 productivity apps with BlackBerry devices.
RIM’s future rides on BlackBerry 10
Some customers worry about RIM’s future and say that the release of BlackBerry 10 could be a make-or-break moment for the company.
RIM’s enterprise foundation and mobile security reputation may keep the company afloat until the general release of BlackBerry 10, said Brian Reed, chief product officer of enterprise mobility management company, BoxTone, in Columbia, Md.
The company did not give a timeframe for the release of BlackBerry 10. During a keynote, RIM's CEO, Thorsten Heins, said that the company “would take [its] time to get it right.”
Can BlackBerry 10 appeal to consumers?
The challenge for RIM is to convince more people to become BlackBerry users. The company hopes to attract more users through a more consumer-friendly mobile product that is also attractive to enterprises concerned with mobile data security and productivity.
With BlackBerry 10, RIM has eschewed the app-icon approach in favor of constantly-updated, “cascading” information tiles that run layered over one another. Swiping aside one app reveals the app behind it, and users can see updated information for three apps at once.
Other features revealed this week include a touch keyboard that is capable of adaptive and predictive text, a camera that users can rewind or fast forward to seconds before or after image capture to save the right moment, plus the gaming and music capabilities of the PlayBook tablet.
Though it’s too early to predict whether or not RIM will find success with the new operating system, Reed said he likes what he’s seen so far. He believes that the combination of BlackBerry 10 and RIM’s enterprise services offer businesses an intriguing alternative to Android and iOS.
“There’s room in the car market for Ford, Honda and BMW,” Reed said. “It reasons there will be room for several competing mobile OSes.”
The question, Reed said, is not whether RIM can regain its dominance in the mobile market, but whether the company can offer a compelling mix of services and products for consumers and enterprises alike.
Mobile Fusion appeals to enterprise IT
The new enterprise products from RIM, such as BlackBerry Mobile Fusion, acknowledge the growing role that mobile and cloud play in the enterprise, and the products address IT’s security concerns around personal iPhone and Android devices.
Grupo Salinas, a Mexico-based conglomerate that owns a variety of businesses, recently deployed a mobile program for executives using Mobile Fusion. Within 90 days, Mobile Fusion will allow Grupo Salinas to roll out a company-wide BYOD program that will support BlackBerry, Android and iPhone devices.
Grupo Salinas expects to add about 18,000 phones, a large majority of which will be BlackBerry devices. Though Android and iPhone are gaining popularity, BlackBerry devices haven’t fallen out of favor in Mexico for BYOD, said Gustavo Vazquez, chief information officer for Grupo Salinas.
The lack of stable Internet infrastructure in Mexico means any BYOD or mobility program has to rely on secure cellular data connections, something Grupo Salinas felt that only RIM could provide.
“We are trying to use the BlackBerry connection because with VPN [virtual private network] the connection can be lost at any moment,” Vazquez said.
RIM also provides good service management products and back-end IT support for enterprises, according to Vazquez.
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Moving forward, RIM intends to focus on “cloud, secure connectivity and securing data at rest” across multiple devices. This focus is influenced by the feedback that RIM has received from a variety of organizations, ranging from “mom and pop businesses to Fortune 500 companies,” said Jeff Holleran, director of enterprise software at RIM.
An analysis released by IDC Corp. this week estimated that BlackBerry’s global market share of mobile phones fell to 6.7% during the first quarter of this year -- roughly half of what it was in the same period in 2011.
RIM says it has 77 million users worldwide.