NEW YORK--BlackBerry hosted a BlackBerry Experience forum here March 4, as part of a multi-city tour (San Francisco was behind them, London ahead of them) to show off features of BlackBerry 10, BlackBerry Enterprise Server 10 (BES 10) and the BlackBerry Z10 smartphone to enterprise customers who have yet to see them.
While the company, formerly known as Research In Motion, unveiled its long-coming new offerings Jan. 30 and began selling the Z10 in numerous markets around the world beginning Jan. 31, the phone has yet to be made available by the leading U.S. carriers, or even have a firm launch date beyond "mid-March," and the event gave attendees the chance to hold the Z10, ask questions and hopefully stoke any last embers of excitement in a critical market that has waited and waited.
"The past year has been a year of transition, and transitions can be difficult," Richard Piasentin, BlackBerry's U.S. managing director, said in his opening remarks during the morning's keynote. "We definitely tested your patience, and we appreciate the level of patience you've had with us."
Consciously using the company's old name, Piasentin added, "A few years ago, RIM stopped listening [to its customers]. Take it from me, on behalf of BlackBerry, those days are over."
Enterprises, particularly those in regulated markets, have been core BlackBerry customers. But with bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies opening enterprise doors to consumer-owned iPhones and Android devices, and competitors like Samsung, with its Approved for Enterprise (SAFE) software, competing for enterprise deployments directly and aggressively, the new BlackBerry knows that no user is a given.
In the countdown to the U.S. launch of the Z10 and BlackBerry 10, Piasentin promised that the product had been "redesigned, reengineered and reinvented," as has the company itself.
Speaking privately with eWEEK later, Piasentin expanded on this idea, explaining that RIM didn't make it easy for customers, especially those in regulated industries, to stick with them.
"BlackBerry has always provided the manageability and security and value proposition that business customers have asked for, but it's not news that employee-owned devices, BYOD, has created new demands, and that's what I'm talking about," he said. "What we're trying to get across with BlackBerry 10 is that we're bringing a no-compromise solution to the market, and one that people will want [to use], and we've taken it to a whole new level, with the ability to maintain a separate apps environment on the corporate perimeter, versus the personal [with BlackBerry Balance], and just giving them tremendous control."
One of the ways the old RIM had its ears closed, Piasentin went on, was the way it treated BlackBerry smartphones solely as productivity devices. BlackBerry 10 is a recognition that users not only want to "get things done on their phones, but also do other things with it," he said.
To that end, BlackBerry gave the Z10 features like a camera with editing tools and Time Shift—a feature that enables the expression of each person in a photo to be moved slightly forward or backward in time, so that the ideal moment can be captured.
It's the type of feature that the new BlackBerry says the old RIM, focused on what enterprise users needed during the most work-intense moments of their days, didn't bother with—and which cost them their market share to competitors peddling more balanced devices.
As part of the better balance the new BlackBerry has struck, BES 10 now also supports those competing devices.
New BlackBerry, but Older and Wiser
IT decision makers at the event were given lots of information (the moment BlackBerry 10 launches it will be enterprise ready; the German government, using a multiple-encryption version of BlackBerry 10 involving microSD smart cards, is a new customer; the app store is receiving 1,000 new apps per day) and repeatedly impressed with several key messages.
Chief among these messages was that while BlackBerry 10 is more secure than ever, it's also the simplest BlackBerry platform to manage and use.
"One challenge with [containerized solutions] is they never unify information, they don't allow a user to have one view of their life," Mike Brown, vice president of security product management, told eWEEK. "Another challenge was how to allow the architecture to have fewer decision points. ... We had feedback from customers that they needed basic controls but also simplicity—mobility is extremely complicated."
Security was another key message, and particularly that BlackBerry Balance secures both enterprise and personal data. ("Why does your car have brakes? So it can go faster. Brakes, like security, allow you to do more," Brown said during the keynote.)
Speaking with eWEEK about Samsung's SAFE offering, Brown, while not directly addressing Samsung, explained, "We've spent almost 15 years focusing on how to supply end-to-end security. It's not about 'Did you do one particular thing right' but "Did you do everything right.' It's taken us 15 years to get there. Good security can look a lot like bad security."
While there were breakout sessions on app development, question-and-answer sessions that dove into the nitty-gritty of deployment settings, and opportunities to meet with representatives from BlackBerry partners such as SAP and Sprint, Piasentin and his colleagues ultimately were on hand to reiterate a message that BlackBerry has been emphasizing for months now, from its introduction of the Z10 to its hiring of Alicia Keys, to its first-ever Super Bowl ad.
Piasentin suggested the fact that the once-buttoned-up company had created an ad that included a tanker truck exploding into hundreds of rubber duckies rather said it all: "We're coming back, and something huge has changed."