Research In Motion has long touted enterprise-level security and management as a selling point of its BlackBerry devices, a key differentiator from the Apple iPhones and Google Android smartphones flooding both the business and consumer market.
Now, it seems, RIM has decided to extend its branded management capabilities to platforms beyond BlackBerry, in what could represent a significant strategy change for the company.
RIM's upcoming BlackBerry Mobile Fusion is designed, in the words of the company's Nov. 29 press release, to "simplify the management of smartphones and tablets running BlackBerry, Google Android and Apple iOS operating systems." In other words, IT administrators and CIOs will have the ability to control all those devices via a Web-based console, from instituting security policies to managing applications. For those shops continuing to support BlackBerry devices, RIM will include BlackBerry Enterprise Server 5.0.3, which offers features such as over-the-air app and software installation.
With BlackBerry Mobile Fusion, RIM has acknowledged the increasingly heterogeneous nature of enterprise mobility, which in turn has threatened the BlackBerry's longstanding lock on many companies' IT infrastructure. As the recession slashed corporate budgets for massive smartphone buys, and as the increased popularity of smartphones put more Google Android devices and Apple iPhones in executives' hands, both small companies and large enterprises saw an influx of personal devices retrofitted for business use.
In turn, that helped erode the BlackBerry's corporate market share-but as with many an institution in similar straits, RIM decided the best strategy was to push back, hard, against its rivals. Now, it seems, that strategy may have taken something of a turn, with RIM offering a major product targeted at heterogeneous environments. BlackBerry Mobile Fusion is currently in early beta testing, with general availability expected in late March 2012.
Certainly RIM faces challenges from analysts and pundits who see the company as beleaguered in the face of significant competition from Apple's iOS and Google Android. "Looking in retrospect, we should have downgraded in mid-October," read a Nov. 28 research note from Sterne Agee analyst Shaw Wu, "when the stock was $24 and our supply chain checks indicated that while its new flagship BlackBerry Bold 9900 was doing decently, the rest of its product line was lagging."
In a Nov. 17 research note, Canaccord Genuity analyst T. Michael Walkley suggested that Apple's launch of the iPhone 4S had impacted sales of BlackBerry devices: "While our September/October checks indicated solid sales of new BlackBerry OS 7 models, especially the Bold 9000 series as an upgrade enterprise sale, our recent checks indicate slowing sales trends post the launch of the iPhone 4S and price reductions of the iPhone 4 and 3GS."
In addition to BlackBerry Mobile Fusion, RIM is also betting on an upcoming line of "superphones" running its in-development BBX operating system. An exact launch date for those devices has not been publicly declared.