BlackBerry’s plans for the future include finding ways to grow closer to its existing customers and to build on the company’s existing strengths, according to a senior BlackBerry executive.
In a wide-ranging interview, John Sims, president of Global Enterprise Solutions for BlackBerry, told eWEEK that the company’s strength and its future growth depend on four pillars.
He said those pillars include its device business, including its existing BlackBerry devices and a series of new devices to come. The company’s QNX operating system, which is at the core of BlackBerry 10 devices as well as in a vast collection of devices ranging from automobiles to medical equipment, will for the second pillar, he said.
BlackBerry Messenger, the secure, encrypted, text messaging system that already drives would-be hackers nuts, is going to become a more important part of the company’s operations when the messenger supports Windows Phone, iOS and Android devices. Sims said that BBM will be enhanced and become even more secure, and that it will support logging to meet compliance requirements.
The fourth pillar is BlackBerry Enterprise Service, the company’s device security, application and content management platform, which Sims said will be enhanced to support the Internet of things and a wide range of other devices. BES will be strengthened to support stronger security and will build on existing work with government users to deliver a higher level of security than BlackBerry already supports for its corporate customers.
Part of the plan for BlackBerry’s growth is to open up the company’s APIs so that customers can build applications that work with BES and other BlackBerry products. The company is also working on a set of voluntary standards for communications with devices using BES. Sims noted that devices used in a variety of industries already run QNX, so incorporating BES as a management solution would be fairly straightforward.
If all of these plans sound ambitious, it’s important to remember that BlackBerry is nowhere as weak as some who would quote current smartphone sales figures might have you believe. According to a recent Gartner study, BlackBerry still has about 26 percent of the enterprise market. In addition, BlackBerry is still the device of choice in markets where compliance and security are required.
Sims also noted that BlackBerry is the only device maker that fully supports Gartner’s COPE (corporate owned personally enabled) model for the mobile workforce. He said that the company plans to provide more capabilities to corporate users, including such things as secure voice communications.
“This is important in the energy industry,” Sims said, noting that exploration teams sometimes venture into areas that aren’t especially friendly. “You need something more secure than GSM,” he said.
Sims also said that BlackBerry is working on a number of new devices aimed specifically at growth markets. The BlackBerry Z3, which was just introduced into Indonesia is one of those. It’s a mid-priced smartphone that runs BBOS10 and currently supports 3G communications.
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The Z3 will eventually get 4G radios and will be released at some point in Europe and North America. Sims said.
A brief look at the Z3 revealed it to be an attractive smartphone with a 5-inch screen. The device I examined had a black plastic case with sharp edges that made it resemble a Nokia device. The price point of the existing Z3 is under $200.
One area that BlackBerry sees as ready for more growth is in health care. Because of compliance requirements, integrating smartphones and tablets has been difficult. Here, Sims said that BlackBerry is planning a new tabletlike device for use by doctors and other medical staff.
While Sims declined to name the device or provide a detailed description, he did say that it needs to have a screen large enough to view medical imaging such as MRIs, and that it needs to be small enough to fit into the pocket of those lab coats that doctors wear.
The company is also getting closer to its customers in another way. Sims said one of the things that BlackBerry customers want is a physical keyboard, a feature that has been much maligned by smartphone users and those in the technology media who can’t imagine using anything besides a touch-screen keyboard.
With this in mind, the company will deliver the BlackBerry Classic in the fall of 2014. This new device will run BBOS 10, but it will have the physical keyboard, home keys and track pad that the BlackBerry faithful love. It will have a larger screen than previous devices with keyboards, however, Sims said.
Other features that Sims said are coming include secure voice and video conferencing using BBM, secure chat and eventually a desktop version of BBM that will include video chat capability.
That brings us to the obvious question, which is, will all of this save BlackBerry? Will it bring the brand back to its original glory? The answers to these questions are complex.
I don’t think BlackBerry is doomed. I also don’t think it’s headed for oblivion as a secure cloud and communications provider. But I also don’t think BlackBerry will ever again be on top of the heap.
Far too many companies and large government agencies in the U.S. and elsewhere depend on the security that BlackBerry brings to the table for them to move on to something else. In addition, the company through its QNX platform is reaching ubiquity. It may not be glamorous, but someone has to build all the things that keep commerce running.
Likewise, while there’s still demand for devices with keyboards, touch-screen devices are still the hot sellers and mobile Internet access still needs a big screen. While the consumer market will continue to focus on iOS and Android, for enterprise users, BlackBerry still has an important message.