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OK, BlackBerry, what else have you got besides security?

Evan Schuman | Nov. 26, 2014
The once-dominant mobile-email player’s latest pitch is irrelevant for today’s smartphone buyers. Can the company’s BYOD pitch save the day?

Take the biometric authentication, the finger scan. Your authenticated fingerprint is necessary to complete an Apple Pay transaction. But while you can unlock your phone with that same fingerprint, that safeguard can be bypassed. iPhones default to a PIN if the fingerprint scan fails, and most users rely on the default setting of a four-digit PIN. 

And BlackBerry CEO John Chen this month made the case to enterprise IT that BlackBerry's security defenses are much deeper than that. "Our security doesn't just come from one layer of security, like most of our competitors. We start with the silicon. It's in the chip. The firmware that was written on it," Chen said.

That is wonderful, sure, but for BlackBerry it is no longer enough. It can't overcome what has become BlackBerry's biggest shortcoming, its near invisibility in the massive app market. Apple and Google/Android have done a great job of making their dominance of the app market pay off for them even in the enterprise, tying app functionality and flexibility to opportunities for reaping better profits and regaining missed sales. For years, when companies have decided which platforms to launch their apps on, the choice has almost always come down to iOS, Android or both. Rarely has BlackBerry even been considered a viable app platform option. 

What, then, can save BlackBerry?

One bright spot is the global market. In many parts of the world, BlackBerry was never eclipsed by Apple and the iPhone. That could change, though. If Alibaba makes good on its much-discussed deal with Apple, even parts of Asia that appear very BlackBerry-friendly might start to slip away.

There might be a glimmer of hope in an area of huge importance for enterprise IT: BYOD. BlackBerry has acquired a U.K. firm called Movirtu, which lets one smartphone host both a corporate and a personal phone number. Enterprises might latch on to an easy way to use SIM cards to keep personal and corporate data separate on a single device. Movirtu can achieve this trick on iOS and Android devices as well as BlackBerry devices. Nonetheless, this looks like a differentiator for BlackBerry. Enterprises are very interested in ways to make BYOD less of a headache, and neither Apple nor Google/Android is doing much of anything to help. BlackBerry is. That could reflect well on BlackBerry, reminding corporate IT decision-makers that it was always the leader in mobile security. And there's always the chance that more than a few of those decision-makers will move back toward BlackBerry just because they find themselves in business with the company again, implementing the Movirtu device on iOS and Android phones. 

(One interesting thing about this BYOD scenario is how it mirrors one of Apple's oldest strategies -- "mirror" being the appropriate metaphor, because it takes that strategy and reverses it. Apple always has tried to leverage its relative success among consumers to gain a foothold in the enterprise. Most notably, it attempted this by getting universities and other schools to use Macs, with the hope that the students who had become accustomed to Macs would insist on using them when they entered the corporate world. It never quite worked out that way, but no matter. Now we have BlackBerry, once the mobile king of the enterprise, trying with this dual-persona service to make a big push into the consumer market.)


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