BlackBerry delivered more enterprise-centric hardware and software this week that may help the company retain existing customers, but whether it can win back lost customers remains to be seen.
Plans are in the works for BlackBerry Enterprise Service 12 (BES 12), an update to the company's current BES 10 enterprise mobility management (EMM) platform that combines the capabilities of BES 10 and BES 5.
In addition, BlackBerry will return to its roots with the new Q20 smartphone. It's expected to sport the classic QWERTY keyboard and familiar features such as the "menu," "back" and "end" buttons and an integrated trackpad that BlackBerry eschewed with last year's Q10.
Whether or not the new phone will re-energize BlackBerry's enterprise base is an open question, especially in a world where it has been surpassed by other vendors, said Matt Kosht, the IT director for a utility company in Alaska.
"If [BlackBerry has] a future at all, it’s as a services company and not building phones," Kosht said.
In that vein, BlackBerry BES 12 will provide a platform for enterprise application development for deployment to BlackBerrys and devices from other operating systems. Support will also be added for Windows 8 Phone.
If [BlackBerry has] a future at all it’s as a services company.
Matt Kosht, IT director, Alaska utility company
BlackBerry's news comes the same week Samsung made a full-fledged jump into EMM with a major update to its Knox platform at Mobile World Congress.
Despite the news, former BlackBerry customers such as Norm Waslynchuk, IT director for Abell Pest Control in Toronto, won't fall back into BlackBerry's arms.
"I don't want to have to support two different MDMs," said Waslynchuk, who uses AirWatch for device management. "We're completely BlackBerry-free."
The Q20 is expected to be available in the second half of 2014 and pricing will be provided at the time of launch. Meanwhile, BES 12 will be available before the end of 2014 with an early adopter program anticipated for the summer.
BES 12 steps up multi-OS support, app development
BES 12 improves development capabilities for enterprise applications in a way BlackBerry hopes is familiar to its users, according to Jeff Holleran, BlackBerry's senior director of enterprise product management.
"We're going to drive, in a cross-platform fashion, a mobile experience for applications the same way we did for email 10 or 12 years ago," Holleran said.
That could be a step in a welcome direction for developers and IT managers. BlackBerry hadn't released any of its application program interfaces to the outside world before, Waslynchuk said.
"You have to capture the developer's hearts and minds and it's like crickets as far as developing BlackBerry apps," Kosht said. "They're better off positioning BES to manage all devices."
The newest BES aims to do that, with Microsoft's Windows Phone 8 joining BlackBerry, Apple Inc.'s iOS and Google Inc.'s Android operating systems for support, and BlackBerry may not be done there.
"We're planning to add new and interesting endpoints onto the system as we grown the platform," Holleran said.
Can Q20 win back customers?
BlackBerry listened to its most passionate customers when it came to returning many of the pre-Q10 QWERTY phone features to the Q20, according to Holleran.
"That's the device they really love. They wanted to make sure that we would continue to produce that experience for them on the BlackBerry 10 platform," he said.
In addition to the Q20, BlackBerry also expects a new Z-series touchscreen phone, the Z3, to ship later this year, with a focus on catering to the Indonesian market. It's the first BlackBerry device resulting from the company's partnership with supplier Foxconn, Inc.
But whether BlackBerry can funnel older technology and expand beyond its hardcore hardware base remains to be seen.
While the BlackBerry 10 operating system has qualities that appeal to enterprises, Kosht said it's a mistake for BlackBerry to continue focusing on making any hardware -- especially now that the company is losing even to Microsoft.
BlackBerry fell to fourth behind Apple and Microsoft in 2013 worldwide smartphone sales to end users by OS according to a report from Gartner, Inc. earlier this month. BlackBerry's market share dropped from 5% to 1.9% while Microsoft's ticked up from 2.5% to 3.2%. Both lagged well behind Android (78.4% in 2013) and iOS (15.6%).
Changes for BBM, BES 10 pricing
A new suite of features around BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) called eBBM, geared specifically toward highly-regulated industries, is slated for launch this summer. Among the features will be BBM Protected, which adds an extra layer of encryption for messaging on top of BBM.
BBM support will also be added for Windows Phone this summer and the Nokia X platform when it launches.
BlackBerry is offering a new program to help companies migrate to BES 10 starting March 31 until Jan. 31, 2015. Under the program, customers can match any existing on-premises BES licenses and licenses from any other device management platforms with a corresponding BES 10 perpetual license at their new Silver pricing level plus free technical support for installation.
This move was geared toward getting customers who have earlier editions of BES or other management platforms onto BES 10, according to Holleran.
Included in the Silver pricing level are device, application, email and security management for BlackBerry 10, iOS and Android devices as well as support for the BlackBerry Balance container for BlackBerry 10 devices. The Gold pricing level adds BlackBerry's Secure Work Space containerization feature for iOS and Android as well as advanced security features aimed at highly-regulated business.
Pricing for one-year Silver licenses on a per-year, per-device basis starts at $19 with an additional $4 for support while a perpetual license starts at $38 with an additional $8 for support. Gold one-year licenses start at $60 per-year per-device and $12 for support with the perpetual license at $120 and $24 for support.