For enterprise users, how will Research In Motion’s new BlackBerry 6 operating system match up against Microsoft’s upcoming Windows Phone 7?
That question could become particularly important, given that many firms are beginning to engage in a long-awaited tech refresh after months or years of pinched IT budgets. While Windows Phone 7 is targeted more at a consumer demographic, many businesses will likely evaluate Microsoft’s attempt at a complete smartphone operating-system revamp, if only because a portion of those same businesses have traditionally used Windows Mobile devices for corporate communications.
Meanwhile, BlackBerry has been attempting to hold its traditional stronghold in the enterprise against a rising batch of competitors, notably Google Android, while carving inroads in the consumer market.
That would put the operating systems on a collision course, to use a hoary clich??Â«, if their respective companies hadn’t already been competing fiercely in the mobile space against not only each other, but also Apple and Google.
RIM President and co-CEO Mike Lazaridis first unveiled the BlackBerry 6 operating system on April 27, along with a WebKit-powered Web browser, during an address at the company’s Wireless Enterprise Symposium in Orlando, Fla.
Lazaridis described the next version of the smartphone operating system as the “biggest step forward for the BlackBerry experience in our history.” Revamped features include multitouch functionality, bookmarks, easy-to-access search, and pan-and-zoom scrolling from screen to screen. A supposedly faster Web browsing experience comes courtesy of a new rendering engine.
Some analysts see the new BlackBerry operating system as a chance for RIM to achieve a better competitive position vis-??Ã-vis Google Android and the Apple iPhone.
“We think the UI [user interface] will improve access to the BlackBerry apps store,” Mark McKechnie, an analyst with Broadpoint AmTech, wrote in an April 27 research note. “The new OS will come with a browser that includes multitouch, kinetic scrolling and pinch to zoom. Further checks suggest the OS and browser will be ported to recently shipping models, including the Bold 2, pending technical hurdles.”
RIM also used the Orlando conference to unveil two new handsets, the BlackBerry Bold 9650 and BlackBerry Pearl 3G. The Bold 9650 is the first device in that line to support CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) networks, allowing it to operate on EvDO Rev A networks in North America and 3G UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System)/HSPA and quad-band EDGE (Enhanced Data for Global Evolution)/GPRS/GSM networks abroad.
According to analysis firm comScore, RIM leads the U.S. smartphone market with a 42 percent share, while the Apple iPhone holds second with a 25 percent share. Windows Mobile and Google Android trail in third and fourth place with 15 percent and 9 percent, respectively.
Windows Phone 7 a Radical Departure
Windows Phone 7 a Radical Departure
While BlackBerry 6 does indeed look very different from its predecessors, Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7-due to be released at an as-yet-unannounced point closer to the end of 2010-marks a far more radical departure from a previously accepted template.
Windows Phone 7 aggregates both online content and mobile applications into “hubs,” subdivided into categories that include “People,” “Pictures,” “Office,” “Music & Video” and “Games.” The “Office” hub syncs productivity applications such as OneNote with the user’s PC, but its true utility for many business users will be the SharePoint server connection, which allows collaboration and access to documents.
But Windows Phone 7 also has a markedly consumer focus, which some analysts feel could harm its chances with business users.
“The change will not endear Microsoft to its existing base of corporate users who will have to design and redeploy their apps if they are to utilize this new platform,” Jack Gold, an analyst with J. Gold Associates, wrote in a Feb. 15 research note soon after Windows Phone 7’s unveiling during the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain. “We don’t think Microsoft can count on many enterprises making such a transition/upgrade, and most organizations will likely stay with older WinMo versions (especially those using ruggedized devices, e.g., Symbol, or those with apps that can’t be easily transported).”
But that singular Office hub may also be enough for some business users.
“The main difference is that companies like Microsoft see the smartphone as a device that can accomplish work; Apple is on the other side, saying that we’re going to make media devices that you can use to do most of the things you need to do for work,” Charles King, an analyst for Pund-IT Research, said in a February interview with eWEEK. For Microsoft, he added, the key point for Windows Phone 7 devices will be “their easy integration with office productivity apps and easy integration with SharePoint and Exchange environments.”
Businesses that rely heavily on older versions of Windows Mobile, however, may find themselves reluctant to embrace a new device. Microsoft has publicly pledged to support Windows Mobile devices even after the release of Windows Phone 7.
Both Windows Phone 7 and BlackBerry 6 will lack for apps, at least in comparison to what Apple and Google offer through their respective mobile-application storefronts. For U.S.-based Windows Mobile 6.x smartphones, the Windows Phone Marketplace offers more than 718 mobile applications in 14 categories-a pittance compared with Apple’s App Store and its more than 100,000 apps-and there has been little indication of how many applications may be offered with Windows Phone 7. RIM is also touchy about the 6,500 apps in its BlackBerry App World, with Lazaridis stating during his presentation that, “Success in wireless will depend on who has the best apps, not the most apps.”
RIM continues to exert a robust enterprise presence, through features such as its BlackBerry Enterprise Server-which allows for collaboration and synchronization between accounts-and the ability to exert granular control over employee security. Its laserlike focus on the segment, paired with corporations’ generalized reluctance to make radical changes, could make a real battle out of other companies’ attempts to take its market share. Although BlackBerry 6 certainly looks sleeker and more consumer-oriented than previous versions, much of its core functionality is instantly recognizable.
That could mean relatively little enterprise market share movement once both operating systems are in the wild, especially given Windows Phone 7’s more consumer focus. One thing for certain, though, is that both companies will be issuing operating systems that are a whole lot prettier.