Nov. 29, 2011 at 11:05 AM ET
RIM just announced a security platform that covers BlackBerry devices — but also devices running Android and iOS. On one hand, it's a sign that IT managers seek BlackBerry's renowned security. On the other hand, it's a sign that RIM is giving up on competing with its functionally superior rivals.
"If you can't beat them, join them," wrote telecom analyst Jeff Kagan, in a note. "This looks like RIM's attempt to remain relevant in a changing marketplace."
What's the change? That people aren't buying BlackBerry handsets anymore, choosing instead phones that run an operating system powered by Google or Apple. RIM's global sales have plummeted 58 percent in the past year, according to a recent report by Canalys, which said RIM is doing even worse than that in the United States. RIM's U.S. market share fell from 24 percent this time last year, to just 9 percent now. Meanwhile, the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet has been a total flop.
The new software, called BlackBerry Mobile Fusion, sounds great: IT managers can juggle apps, settings, passwords and other software on phones running all three major operating systems. They can wipe the memory of lost or stolen phones. And the system can handle multiple devices per user. This last bit is a key benefit since a lot of people who were issued a BlackBerry by their company have gone out and bought a cooler phone — to the chagrin of the IT folks.
If RIM's intent is to shift from hardware to software and services, like IBM did so successfully, then this may make sense. But it's hard to ignore BlackBerry Mobile Fusion's acknowledgment of the ascendancy of Android and iPhone, at the cost of RIM's core business. RIM will also add other platforms such as Windows Phone if there's a demand, though at the moment, the company is "not hearing" that demand.
BlackBerry Mobile Fusion "will help stem the tide of those companies that may have considered eliminating their BlackBerry Enterprise Servers but it won't help sell more phones," Gartner analyst Phillip Redman told Reuters. "That's what they really need to do."
RIM discussed the software in a press conference, but Alan Panezic, RIM's VP of enterprise product management and marketing, did not answer any questions (including our own) about how this changes BlackBerry's competitive stance against Android and iOS.
RIM will have a wide release of the software in late March. In the meantime, RIM has launched a Mobile Fusion product page where you can follow updates.
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