Research in Motion is anticipating a late March launch of BlackBerry Mobile Fusion Universal Device Service, a component of BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) that will allow it to manage iOS and Android devices. With BES already estabilished in 250,000 companies worldwide, these new capabilities could potentially have a large impact on the emerging iOS and Android management industry.
When iOS and Android devices first came out, the refrain from many organizations was that they were unmanageable, which was completely true, at first. There was no way to plug them into anything remotely resembling a BES, and to administrators that were used to having control over all devices, including phones, this was a big deal. However, as successive versions of iOS and Android came along, more and more MDM APIs were opened up. With that, a huge crop of MDM vendors came in to fill the hole. Now Android and iOS devices can be managed almost to the same degree that BES manages BlackBerrys.
Problem solved, right? Not for RIM. Those new devices, whether managed or not, left BlackBerrys seeming old and out of fashion. At the same time, though, the non-BlackBerry MDM market still has a lot of shaking-out to do—there will inevitably be consolidation. For right now, many iOS and Android devices are still unmanaged, because it takes longer for organizations to react than it took for employees to start demanding and using non-BlackBerry devices. And in the mean time, while some organizations are trying to decide what to do, upstart bloggers like me are suggesting that the devices don’t need to be managed anyway.
Enter Mobile Fusion
With BlackBerry having such a bad year in 2011, it’s natural that they would want to capitalize in some way on the popularity of iOS and Android devices. Their response is BlackBerry Mobile Fusion Universal Device Service.
Mobile Fusion is the generic term for the new web interface that is used to manage PlayBook tablets and other devices. Fusion is a free add-on component to BES, and will eventually replace the existing interface. The PlayBook component was released in February, to coincide with the 2.0 version of the PlayBook’s operating system. The Universal Device Service is due sometime around the end of March, though the exact date hasn’t been announced yet.
Is RIM too late to the party for iOS and Android management? Probably not, since we’re still at a point where most organizations don’t have comprehensive strategies in place, and the number of MDM vendors is still expanding.
All these vendors have access to the exact same set of APIs on iOS and Android devices, which means that when it comes to checking off management features—remote wipe, passcode enforcement, et cetera—every single vendor's offering will be exactly the same. So when it comes to pure management, there will be no question about whether or not BlackBerry can do it as well as other companies—they’ll be the same as all the rest. Where these vendors differentiate themselves is on the other end. Some have proprietary management systems, some pass through directly to Active Directory; some use cloud services to connect the two ends and some require on-site software. This is one of the areas where BlackBerry Mobile Fusion has a big advantage. Even if the web interface is different from old versions of BES, it’s still the same product, from the same vendor, that companies have been using for 13 years.
Some MDM vendors also add value by incorporating mobile data management, PIM, or mobile app management apps with their solutions. For right now the Fusion Universal Device Service app won’t do anything other than install MDM profiles, but there have been hints that future versions will include some of these value-add features.
So will organizations looking for MDM forget all the other vendors out there and just manage iOS and Android devices with BES, considering that there's a pretty good chance that it's already there? On the other hand, licensing costs could get in the way—after all, one of the benefits of going to unmanaged non-BlackBerry devices is that there are no expensive CALs to buy (or at least they're cheaper). These will both be happening within the context of an MDM market that's ripe for consolidation. Companies with legacy BES installations will probably welcome the Universal Device service, but for smaller, younger companies that are able to take risks with newer MDM vendors, BlackBerry seems an unlikely choice.