While RIM promises that BlackBerry administrators will soon be able to separately manage personal and corporate data on BlackBerry smartphones through BlackBerry Bridge, I suspect a lack of supported devices will greatly hamper the ability to roll out the feature once it launches later this year.
As eWEEK's Michelle Maisto described, BlackBerry Balance offers a “secure method of separating personal and professional data,” enabling IT administrators the ability to manage corporate data on smartphones in the field while leaving the user’s personal data alone.
Left unaddressed in Michelle’s story, however, were the prerequisites needed for administrators to be able use the feature. On the data-center side, administrators will need to upgrade BlackBerry Enterprise Server to 5.0.3, once that version ships. And on the other side of the connection, Balance will only work with smartphones running a new, as-of-yet-unreleased version of BlackBerry OS 6. RIM representatives referred to it as release 2 in my recent discussion with them, but did not expand further with a specific build number. Nor could they specify what devices would ultimately work with Balance, once the feature launches.
However, it is fairly clear is that enterprises are going to need very current BlackBerry models to be able to use this new feature, and a clear path to supported client software may be largely out of their control. RIM currently ships three BlackBerry models with BlackBerry OS 6 pre-installed (the Bold 9780, Style 9670, Torch 9800), while also stating that five other models are upgradeable to OS 6 (BlackBerry Bold 9700/9650, Curve 9330/ 9300, Pearl 9100). However, the availability of the upgrade to the appropriate version of OS 6 will depend on the carrier in question.
And that is a big question mark, certainly. I did a quick survey of the four major U.S carriers to see whether any of them had yet released OS 6 code to customers for any of those 5 upgradeable models. And five months after RIM first shipped OS 6 on the Torch, I found only one carrier had followed through as of yet. Sprint released OS 6 for both the Curve 9330 and the Bold 9650, while T-Mobile, AT&T, and
Verizon customers have received zilch when it comes to OS 6 upgrades.
I know that I have been waiting (im)patiently for a T-Mobile upgrade for my Bold 9700 since I first saw a demo back in September at DevCon, and I even experimented with a few of the leaked builds while I waited for an officially supported version... that has yet to arrive.
Even if OS 6 support eventually comes, there is no guarantee that a further upgrade to the BlackBerry Bridge-enabled version will be released.
If it winds up that the bulk of the BlackBerry smartphones are unable to support BlackBerry Bridge due to software shortcomings on the handheld side, I have my doubts whether IT would or should roll out a feature that supports but a tiny subset of the company’s device inventory.
* Update: A scant few hours after posting this, RIM's PR sent me the following note, adding a second carrier that supports upgrades to BlackBerry OS 6: "BlackBerry 6 will be available for BlackBerry Bold 9650 and BlackBerry Curve 3G customers for Verizon Wireless today by 8pm EST. This redesigned operating system includes a new intuitive design, enhanced web browsing experience, universal search, social feeds and an engaging multimedia experience. Customers can connect their phone to their PC and go to www.blackberry.com/updates. Alternatively, customers can download the update Over the Air (OTA) by selecting Options > Advanced Options > Wireless Update. For more information about the update and detailed instructions on how to download please visit www.verizonwireless.com/boldsupport or www.verizonwireless.com/curve9330support. Customers are encouraged to read about the different download methods before initiating the update."