BlackBerry Questions the Health of MDM Rivals MobileIron, Good

NEW ANALYSIS: BlackBerry, having survived countless "death throes" comments, says it's the health of its competitors that should be considered.

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The impending death of BlackBerry is a topic people speak to casually. At a recent enterprise tablet conference in New York, a panelist who pointed out halfway through the event that the name BlackBerry hadn't yet been spoken and added, "Are those guys still around?" brought up a laugh from the audience.

While cuts and efficiencies put into place by new CEO John Chen have stopped the talk of a BlackBerry "death spiral," the company has also recently begun pushing back against talk of it slowly burning out. (An analyst commented to eWEEK yesterday that he doubted BlackBerry could retain "sufficient mass" to stay in business over the next few years.)

Chen is working to bring BlackBerry back into the black, and he's not alone in that exercise, the company pointed out in a May 15 blog post. While BlackBerry's health can be treated as a punch line, the health of its competitors, the post said, is also worth considering.

Good Technology filed for an initial public offering (IPO) May 14, and so for the first time revealed its financial performance, wrote BlackBerry blogger Eric Lai, adding, "Good's numbers didn't live up to its name."

In 2013, Good posted a net loss of $118 million on approximately $160 million in revenue, and the year before, it posted a $90 million net loss on $116 million in revenue. Lai quotes venture markets expert Dan Primack as pointing out that, looking back another year, a pattern emerges of losses tripling while revenue doubles.

MobileIron is in better shape than Good, Lai adds, although in 2013 it posted revenue of $105.6 million but a net loss of $32.5 million.

"While its 2013 revenue was more than double from the prior year, it included $21.1 million from perpetual license deals that were signed and delivered in prior years," wrote Lai. "In other words, if you're trying to judge MobileIron's momentum, you might consider $84.5 million a truer 2013 revenue figure."

It's also worth considering that BlackBerry's handset business has been its albatross, not its enterprise mobility management (EMM) business, where it competes against MobileIron and Good.

Under Chen, BlackBerry has been streamlined to focus on four areas, one of which is handsets and another of which is EMM (the two others are messaging and embedded systems).

BlackBerry is addressing its primary problem area through its partnership with Foxconn; through its potential for device successes in developing markets, if the early days of the Z3 are a true indication; and in the promise of a new flagship smartphone, the Classic, which it hopes will woo back, or at least keep in place, some longtime BlackBerry users.

In its embedded business, BlackBerry's QNX platform should drive rising profits as the connected car market grows, and BlackBerry has also been making its EMM offering easier to stick with or switch to. (During basically the month of April alone, it issued nearly 800,000 BES10 licenses.)

Separating BlackBerry's hardware and software offerings isn't a simple matter, given how "tightly coupled" they are, analyst Jack Gold, with research firm J. Gold Associates, told eWEEK.

"But if they could separate them, as they are attempting to do, then there is every reason to expect the software side of things to ultimately make a profit for them," said Gold.

"And yes, the others, specifically Good and MobileIron, are losing money," he continued. "It's not surprising, given startup costs, but [also indicates] that MDM [mobile device management] is a difficult market to make money in."

As the MDM market matures, BlackBerry, as it points out, may indeed test the mettle of competitors like MobileIron and Good.

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