Last week in San Francisco, BlackBerry hosted an event to mark the arrival of BES12 and map more of their enterprise plans. There’s no doubt that a lot has changed at BlackBerry in the last year. They’re going in a unique direction with their devices; they’re much more enthusiastic about being a cross-platform EMM vendor; and they even announced a partnership with Samsung. (This event was also the one year anniversary of John Chen’s tenure as CEO.) However, even though BlackBerry has a lot to offer, for companies that don’t have a special need for their platform and devices, there’s still a question of how much of a unique draw they have. Let’s take a look at what BlackBerry is up to, and then at the potential market.
BES12 is the final fully-assembled version of what they’ve been working on for a few years now. It’s a completely new EMM product that provides cross-platform MDM and MAM for iOS, Android, and Windows Phone, combined with the rock-solid security expected for BB10 (and older) devices. BlackBerry has put a lot of work into making BES12 a solid and scalable yet easy to use product. It’s not available as full-on SaaS yet, but obviously there are many channel and operator partners ready to host it. (In case you’re wondering what happened to BES11, they’re skipping from BES10.)
Much of the talk at least week’s event was focused on security threats and—naturally—the matching security credentials of BB10 devices. This message certainly resonates with governments, highly-regulated industries, and any other organizations where security is important enough that specific devices can be made compulsory. But for the rest of us? I’ll get to that in a minute.
One of the surprises of the day was the announcement of a partnership with Samsung Knox. While this may seem odd from the competitive angle, from the security angle this makes more sense. BlackBerry made pains to emphasize that this is more than a symbolic partnership. BlackBerry and Samsung will be able to sell each others’ products, and they’ll be collaborating on technology as well. The vision is that BlackBerry will support Samsung Knox in a deeper way than other EMM providers—essentially, the Knox containers will be able to connect directly into the BlackBerry NOC. I’ve been thinking of this as a “middle level” in between BB10 and other devices (i.e. iOS, regular Android, and Windows Phone). It’ll have the extra assurance of the deep BlackBerry connection, but it will be on mainstream devices that can access the Google Play Store and normal apps.
Other apps and services
BlackBerry announced or mentioned a range of other apps and services:
- Enterprise Identity: a cross platform identity and access management service that can do single-sign on and SAML federation (similar to Centrify, Ping, and Okta).
- VPN Authentication: a tool that allows any device managed by BES12 to act as a 2nd factor for authenticating into VPNs on laptops (the idea is the phone can replace RSA fobs).
- WorkLife: a program that offers dual phone numbers and split data plans in cooperation with carriers. Your opinion of this likely corresponds with your level of regard for carriers.
- BBM Meetings: a cloud-based, cross-platform video and audio conferencing service that doesn’t actually require a BES. Not too many surprises here—it looks like a solid product. One unique feature that I like is it can automatically call all meeting participants when a meeting starts. If you’re tired of people dialing into meetings late, this could be awesome!
- Blend, software that links BlackBerry devices to unmanaged PCs, Macs, and tablets to create a secure connected workspace. I love all these products that are bringing mobile containerization concepts to desktop OSes.
What about iOS and Android and BlackBerry’s role in the broader market?
Okay, now we can finally get back to BlackBerry’s role as an EMM vendor, providing MDM and MAM for iOS, Android, and Windows Phone.
They’ve certainly made a lot of progress here. Even though they’ve had iOS and Android support for a few years now, it used to be that it was barely mentioned as an afterthought. But now in the John Chen era it’s much more of a focus. Logos for the other device platforms are more prominently in BlackBerry’s marketing materials, and they often talk about being a cross-platform company. Their competitive marketing is getting aggressive, too.
- The big question is will this be enough to attract mainstream EMM customers that don’t happen to have a need or desire for BlackBerry’s devices? Here are a few points to consider:
- Some companies might be attracted to the fact that their MAM workspace apps for iOS and Android can be plugged directly into the BlackBerry NOC.
- There are also all the other new apps and services described above.
- For companies that still have older versions of BES, BlackBerry is doing all it can to make BES12 upgrades easy and cheap (or free).
Even though BlackBerry’s reputation is tarnished, at least they’re much more stable now than they were a year ago. And really, can you beat the mobile security name recognition of BlackBerry?
Despite all this, there’s still a lot of doubt as to whether typical customers—those that aren’t interested in the security reputation of BlackBerry devices—will go for BES12. There are just too many other EMM vendors out there with compelling products.
But this is okay. As long as there are still customers that want the BlackBerry platform—end-to-end from device to NOC to BES—then good for them. Those customers will also get the benefits of BlackBerry’s support for iOS, Android, and Windows Phone.