How BlackBerry Lost Its Status as the Enterprise Mobile Gold Standard

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2014-04-14

How BlackBerry Lost Its Status as the Enterprise Mobile Gold Standard

I was reading Michelle Maisto's well-researched and well-written story about how enterprises are slowly moving away from BlackBerry as the standard for secure mobile communications.

While I was doing this, I was waiting for the new BlackBerry Z30 GSM phone to restart—a process that was taking far longer than it should. This device that I'm reviewing for eWEEK should have been BlackBerry's tour de force.

Instead, this device that was intended to help bring the company back to life does little to inspire confidence. In fact, this lack of confidence is such that I'm packing a spare phone just in case this device gives up the ghost again. But enough of writing about the Z30. This phone will appear in a detailed review that will appear soon on eWEEK.

Instead, we need to examine how it was that a company with such a commanding role in the market, and with such good hardware engineering, lost its way so completely. In the process it's also necessary to separate fact from fiction, since a great deal that's said and believed about the mobile enterprise market is almost entirely fiction.

An example is that only about 2 percent of the mobile devices out there are BlackBerry devices, seemingly inundated in a sea of iPhones. Another is that the enterprise has virtually abandoned the maker in favor of cooler choices. In fact, as Maisto writes, a Gartner report places the installed base of BlackBerry devices at 26 percent in the enterprise, on average. That may not be the company's once commanding lead, but it's a far cry from 2 percent.

Clearly, the enterprise has not abandoned BlackBerry. But what is the source of this misinformation about BlackBerry's market position? Partly it's because there's confusion between gross sales, sales into the enterprise, total installed base and enterprise installed base. It's also partly due to a skewing of figures when the numbers are taken from U.S. sales versus global sales.

Still, the share of BlackBerry in the enterprise is shrinking overall, although the numbers vary by the type of enterprise. Consider the government and financial services industries, and BlackBerry is doing fine. But that's not the case in every industry. The one constant is that in companies where security is of paramount importance, there are a lot of BlackBerry devices. In enterprises where security is less important than user happiness, other brands prevail.

BlackBerry was forced into its long retreat from the top of the mobile market for two reasons. First, the company chose to ignore the trends clearly being set by Apple and Android phones for far too long.

How BlackBerry Lost Its Status as the Enterprise Mobile Gold Standard

The second was that when BlackBerry did respond to those trends, it did so with too little, far too late. When the Z10 arrived, it was a very nice touch-screen phone in a sea of other very nice phones.

BlackBerry's failure to innovate is well-documented, so I won't go into it again here. What was perhaps worse was the company's failure to deliver. The BlackBerry 10 operating system and the phones that run it were months late, meaning that the company had to make do with its seemingly antiquated QWERTY phones and tiny screens when the rest of the world was moving to smartphones with screens large enough to allow practical Web browsing.

While enterprise buyers weren't necessarily swayed by such coolness, their users were. This popularity with users translated into lots of useful apps, some of which were good for business. BlackBerry, meanwhile, commissioned few apps, and worse, required developers to choose between the functionally limited BlackBerry 7 platform, which has many users, and the more effective BlackBerry 10 platform that had few users.

Things are changing at BlackBerry, but at a glacial pace. It's now possible, a year after it was introduced, to load most Android apps onto a BlackBerry 10 device, but only if those apps aren't on Google Play. However, finding this information out so you can do it requires searching non-company sources and downloading third-party apps.

If it sounds like BlackBerry is trying its best to become a business school worst-case analysis, you wouldn't be far off. Here, for example, is the company that desperately needs customers dumping a major carrier because that carrier basically hurt its feelings. This is how you plan a comeback?

It's no wonder BlackBerry fell from grace as the enterprise gold standard. The company did to itself what competitors couldn't have done. BlackBerry managed to knock itself out of the top rankings.

The other question now becomes, who will replace BlackBerry? The answer is nobody. After BlackBerry lost its place as the corporate go-to company, other vendors have picked up parts of what was once the gold standard. Apple and Android have the app markets, for example, while Microsoft has some important support for the enterprise and it has integration with the rest of the world of Windows.

In reality, the future is what you see now. You can still buy a BlackBerry if you need hard-core security, but other devices are plenty good enough for most purposes. Those other phones even might do a better job of supporting the features that you need the most, a need that BlackBerry can't fill anymore.

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