BlackBerry Mobile Fusion Arrives, Making iPhones, Android Play Nice

RIM's BlackBerry Mobile Fusion is a way for business customers to support Android devices and iPhones alongside PlayBooks and BlackBerry smartphones. It's the first big launch on new CEO Thorsten Heins' watch.

BlackBerry maker Research In Motion, with no time to lose, is launching BlackBerry Mobile Fusion, a mobile device management product that allows RIM business customers who already have a BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) to securely support€”and RIM would add easily and cost-effectively€”Apple iPhones and Android-running handsets alongside BlackBerry smartphones and PlayBook tablets.

First introduced in November, Mobile Fusion, which the company officially launched April 3, is an essential component in RIM's plan to stabilize its sinking ship.

Former RIM co-CEOs Mike Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis consistently reassured stockholders and analysts that their big plans for change were nearly here. (RIM's stabilization plans, notably, also include greater management accountability and process efficiency.) Mobile Fusion could hardly arrive soon enough.

New RIM CEO Thorsten Heins, who replaced Lazaridis and Balsillie less than three months ago, acknowledged during RIM's March 29 earnings call that RIM was also slow to get on board with the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) trend, which rather flies in the face of what RIM excels at: battening enterprise hatches. Dwindling budgets, however, and the inevitability of employee-owned devices traveling to offices, requires a new flexibility.

With Mobile Fusion, as well as the upcoming BlackBerry 10 platform, RIM plans to show it can bend with the best of them, while still offering "what makes a BlackBerry a BlackBerry: workflow, productivity, efficiency, security and [ease of use]," Heins said during the call.

iPhones and Android devices have been handily taking market share from BlackBerry for years, and finally RIM will support them, instead of fight them. Mobile Fusion offers a long list of management capabilities to IT managers supporting a mix of mobile platforms, including:

  • support for multiple devices per user;
  • application and software management;
  • connectivity management, including for WiFi, VPNs and security certificates;
  • a centralized, unified Web-based console;
  • security and policy definition and management;
  • asset management; and
  • configuration management.

The software is available as a free download. Client-access licenses (CALs) start at $99 per user or $4 per user per month, with volume discounts available.

In a March 15 blog post, anticipating Mobile Fusion's arrival, RIM offered a road map for how its various pieces would fit together. Answering the rhetorical question of whether RIM was getting rid of BES, Alan Panezic, RIM's vice president of enterprise product management, wrote that, built on the same security model introduced with BES, "the evolution of BlackBerry Enterprise Server is BlackBerry Mobile Fusion."

In March, Reuters highlighted the clock ticking on RIM's fortunes, reporting that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives had decided to remove its BES "in favor of a nimbler alternative that offers support for a wider variety of devices." It was the second government agency, in as many months, said Reuters, to make such an announcement.

Responding to RIM's fiscal 2012 fourth-quarter results, analysts told eWEEK that RIM needs to move fast.

"They still have a loyal, if shrinking, following in the enterprise, and especially in other parts of the world. But, having said that, they need to start executing, including getting BlackBerry 10 out to market post-haste," said Jack Gold, with J. Gold Associates. "If it slips past the fall of this year, it will get even uglier for RIM."