Editorial & Analysis
Also by this author
06 Feb 2013
Latest figures from ABI Research suggest that IT managers can’t assume Android/Apple duopoly; corporate mobile environments must accommodate Windows and BlackBerry, too.
Last week’s launch of the BlackBerry 10 smartphone was, in Europe at least, overshadowed by the company’s refusal to publicly acknowledge what the rest of the industry can see for itself: that BlackBerry has fallen far behind its rivals in the world of touchscreen smartphones and faces an uphill, life-or-death battle to regain at least some of the lost ground.
In the process, it must wage a convincing charm offensive not just on business customers, but also on consumers, according to Dan Shey, an analyst at IT market research company ABI Research, writing in a research note from the company on 31 January.
He’s right, of course, insofar as ‘bring your own device’ (BYOD) policies have meant that consumer devices are now corporate devices, and vice versa.
It’s a far cry from the world from which BlackBerry originally sprung, when its handsets were the de facto choice of security-conscious companies that needed to equip mobile employees with email access, in a way that allowed them to lock devices down from a central server (BlackBerry Enterprise Server, or BES). Can the company - which has now dropped the Research in Motion name in favour of the better-known name, BlackBerry - escape its own past?
If it is to succeed, it will still need strong backing from IT administrators, as Shey himself points out, “but it also needs enough consumers and more specifically, employees, to choose BB10 over Android, Apple and Windows smartphones. The BYOD trend is having a big influence on enterprise mobilisation strategies.”
In this respect, one new feature stands out from the rest: the ability with BB10 to flip between personal apps and a secure space for corporate apps, a feature that is lacking on most other handsets today.
Commenting on this ‘BlackBerry Balance’ feature, Tudor Aw, the head of technology for Europe at management consultancy KPMG, says: “It is a smart move to target the enterprise segment in this way, as it is a clear differentiator from Apple and Samsung. It will help corporate IT departments to regain control over the runaway BYOD phenomenon.”
That’s true - but only up to a point. Companies that have implemented mobile device management (MDM) software, for example, already have the ability to create a ‘sandbox’ for corporate apps, quite separate from any personal apps, on an employee’s mobile phone. The difference is that, by using MDM, the IT department is able to enforce policies that apply to corporate sandboxes across a wide range of mobile handsets, from different manufacturers, chosen by employees with different needs and preferences.
This, after all, is the direction in which BYOD is taking many companies: a mobile handset environment dominated by Apple and Android, but where small pockets of Windows and BlackBerry devices continue to exist and may even grow.
In other words, despite the popularity of some handsets over others, most IT departments will need the ability to support, manage and maintain a heterogenous mobile environment, and many are already struggling to support different ‘flavours’ of Android.
Supporting this hypothesis, ABI’s latest figures show the global installed base of smartphones set to total 1.4 billion by the end of this year. Of these, 57 percent will run Android and 21 percent will run iOS. When it comes to tablets, meanwhile, there’ll be 268 million tablets in active use. Sixty-two percent of these will be built on iOS and 28 percent on Android.
But the market won’t be a complete duopoly, says ABI analyst Aapo Markkanen. This year, he predicts, will be a relatively successful year for the other contenders, Microsoft and BlackBerry. “For the end of the year, we expect there to be 45 million Windows Phone handsets in use, with BlackBerry 10 holding an installed base of close to 20 million. Microsoft will also have 5.5 million Windows-powered tablets to show for it.”
“The greatest fear for both Microsoft and BlackBerry is that the initial sales of their smartphones will disappoint and thereby kill off the developer interest, which then would effectively close the window of opportunity on further sales success,” he adds.
BlackBerry, then, has a relatively short window of opportunity to make a splash, or face - at best - a very marginalised future, both in its traditional home of the corporate workplace, and the world outside of work as well.