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RIM to deliver secure containers for iOS and Android devices

RIM will bring BlackBerry’s email and manageability to iOS and Android devices with new dual persona technology, utilizing secure containers.

With this week’s release of BlackBerry Enterprise Service 10, plus the upcoming BlackBerry 10 operating system and two new mobile devices, corporate IT customers may find a reason to stick with RIM.

One Research In Motion (RIM) feature that has IT pros intrigued is BlackBerry Balance, which creates secure and separate profiles for work and personal life. The company will even offer similar secure containers for iOS and Android devices, according to sources familiar with its roadmap. 

Secure containers for non-BlackBerry devices could be an interesting option for IT departments as they continue to struggle with supporting personal devices on corporate networks.

“From an IT perspective, [a secure container] definitely sounds like a step in the right direction for a better way to manage our BYOD efforts,” said Ernie Huber, director of process and systems for global supply management at an industrial manufacturer based in New Britain, Conn. 

The company has a large BlackBerry installed base, but also supports Android and iOS devices in special cases, for corporate issued devices. Employees who want to bring their own devices must adhere to a policy that requires the use of a PIN lock and grants IT the ability to remotely wipe devices in case of loss, theft or an employee leaving the company.

The ability to offer secure containers for all the different devices and ownership scenarios and manage them from one location could be a huge benefit to IT.

The problem with dual persona technology such as BlackBerry Balance, and one of the main reasons it hasn’t taken off yet, is that end users can get confused, said Bob Egan, founder of the Sepharim Group, an enterprise mobility consulting firm based in Nantucket, Mass. For example, if someone is in the personal container and saves a document intended for work, then later tries to find that document while in the work container, there’s a good chance that document will not be found.

“It’s fair to say that from an IT perspective, the dual persona solves a lot of issues that IT and security has, but it’s cumbersome from a user perspective,” Egan said.

Inside RIM’s secure containers

RIM’s secure containers for iOS and Android devices is a white label product from OpenPeak Inc., a mobile device management (MDM) software provider. It’ll be similar to Good Technology’s software, with a virtual BlackBerry work persona installed as an app on personal iOS and Android devices. The work environment will contain apps for email, contacts, a calendar and more.

“They want to compete with Good and offer more added value than the other native MDM solutions,” said Mark Vonk, founder of Dahvo, an enterprise mobility consulting firm and BlackBerry partner based in the Netherlands. “The feature set now is still pretty limited and the product is still a little buggy, but it seems very promising.”

The BlackBerry secure container for iOS and Android will be similar to AT&T’s Toggle, which is also built atop OpenPeak’s technology, sources said. This approach is slightly different from BlackBerry Balance, which is tightly coupled with QNX – the software that forms the basis of the BlackBerry 10 operating system.

A RIM spokesperson said the company has discussed adding secure containers to its enterprise portfolio but did not share any details.

What’s new in Blackberry Balance

BlackBerry Balance will be available out of the box for two new BlackBerry 10 devices, the Z10 and X10. The feature makes it possible for users to simultaneously view work and personal emails, even though the different inboxes are segregated from one another. Users can shut off work notifications, alerts and other features during certain times to prevent work from intruding on their life outside the office.

Balance also gives IT these capabilities:

  • to setup and partition devices through Blackberry Enterprise Service (BES) 10;
  • to push down mandatory applications and settings to the work persona;
  • to prevent users from being able to copy and paste URLs and other data from one container to the other;
  • and to set up alert notifications when users attempt to send confidential work items to non-work contacts.

“It’s an implementation that is right into the root of the operating system,” said Jeff Halloran, RIM’s senior director of enterprise product management.

In addition, hybrid applications like BlackBerry Hub can display messaging and alerts from both profiles into a single interface.

Will RIM have staying power?

The BlackBerry installed base, at approximately 78 million devices worldwide, represents only 5% of the total smartphone market share, according to various published reports. Yet when it comes to enterprise mobile device management, a large majority of companies still rely on BES (formerly BlackBerry Enterprise Server) or Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync for MDM, instead of third-party vendors such as AirWatch or MobileIron, according to a November 2012 study by J. Gold Associates, LLC.

“A lot of companies have BES in place, and this gives RIM another reason to stay relevant,” said Jack Gold, president of the Northborough, Mass.-based analyst firm.

Most organizations should be interested in the secure container feature for iOS and Android devices, as long as they don’t have to pay extra for it, or manage the devices separately from BlackBerry devices, Gold said.

It’ll take more than just added device management features for RIM to compete against Apple and Android devices in the enterprise, however. It’ll take devices that appeal to consumers first, combined with a strong portfolio of quality business apps, including the likes of Evernote, Dropbox and QuickOffice, Gold said.

“At the end of the day, IT can’t push certain devices onto employees anymore,” he said. “Employees have to like what IT gives them. Otherwise, they’ll just use whatever device they want.”

The new BlackBerry devices will cost $149 (X10) or $199 (Z10) with a carrier contract, according to published reports. The Z10 will have a 4.2-in. touchscreen, while the X10 will have BlackBerry’s traditional physical keyboard. RIM will officially launch BlackBerry 10 on Jan. 30.

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