ORLANDO, Fla. -- BlackBerry has delivered some new features and provided a free upgrade path from BES 5 to BES 10, but some enterprise customers remain unsure about whether they should make that move.
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Though customers see BlackBerry's direction as positive, part of their hesitancy stems from the need for more information. For starters, IT pros at the company's annual user conference here this week want a concrete vision of how BlackBerry will help them manage their mobile efforts, but the company has yet to provide one.
Instead, the mobile management capabilities in BlackBerry Enterprise Service (BES) 10 were glossed over in favor of a flashy sales pitch during the company's keynote address.
A fork in the road
Many organizations must determine whether they'll stick with BlackBerry and upgrade to the new platform or switch to a different mobile strategy.
The new direction is promising.
"We're evaluating whether we want to go with BB10 [BlackBerry 10] or go with just iOS," said Richard Pinsonneault, an IT admin at a government laboratory in New Mexico. The laboratory has a mixed mobile environment with iOS devices being managed by AirWatch software and a fleet of BlackBerry 7 devices.
Part of that evaluation process includes how well BES 10 will help manage devices in addition to BlackBerry's. "We don't lock down our phones as much as we used to, but we do want to have a flexible management solution," Pinsonneault said.
AirWatch provides the laboratory with all the management capabilities it needs for iOS devices, but Pinsonneault said he would gladly switch to BES 10 if the upgrade process was smooth and its management capabilities are better than what his organization has in place.
He's not alone.
"We're trying to figure out enterprise mobile management just like everyone else, and having a one-stop shop to oversee all those different devices would be so much easier on us," said Melanie Seekins, mobile architect at a large financial services company headquartered in New York.
The company has evaluated the approach it wants to take with mobile management as it moves toward a corporate-owned, personally enabled, or COPE, model for mobility. BES 10 appeals to Seekins in how robust the functionality for Android and iOS management is, and how easy it would be for her company to transition to the new platform. "The new direction is promising," she said, noting that having a dual-container approach like Balance can go a long way toward securely enabling mobile employees.
BlackBerry nudges users towards BES 10
BlackBerry customers that do plan to upgrade can make the switch from BES 5 to BES 10 for free throughout 2013.
Both BES and the BlackBerry operating system received minor upgrades from version 10.0 to version 10.1. As part of that upgrade, BES will provide IT departments three tiers of management capabilities that come prepopulated with various policies, depending on the security requirements of the organization.
Another new feature mentioned during the Enterprise Roadmap session was the single server installation capability. This allows BES 10 to be installed on the same server as instances of BES 5, to allow them to run in parallel. Then, when IT departments are ready to move BB 10 into production they can just decommission the instance of BES 5.
Among the other new products and services announced include the Q5, a low-cost BB 10 device for emerging markets that will launch in July outside the U.S. In addition, its popular BlackBerry Messenger platform will expand to other mobile platforms, and eventually will be updated to include a social networking component similar to Twitter with BBM Channels.
Depending on the price of the Q5 phone, which wasn't announced, it could be a shrewd move for BlackBerry, because emerging countries typically don't have carrier-subsidized prices for smartphones as the U.S. does, said Adam Leach, a mobile analyst at Ovum Ltd., a London-based research firm. A similar device could open up a wider customer base -- which shrank from 79 million users to 76 million during the last quarter.
Meanwhile, some BlackBerry customers expected the company to enter the tablet market and were surprised at the lack of a product play. "Tablets are becoming just as important to our mobility efforts as smartphones," said the director of IT for a Canadian government agency, who requested anonymity. "Seems like that would be a good move for BlackBerry."
BlackBerry didn't reveal any sales figures for its new BB 10 devices, something BlackBerry partners had hoped for ahead of the conference. However, the company said more than 12,000 new BES 10 servers have been installed at organizations worldwide and the BlackBerry World app store now has 120,000 apps available.