BlackBerry’s fightback is a battle on two fronts. While consumers have been lured away from the one-time smartphone pioneer by competitively priced Android handsets or the lure of Apple, BlackBerry’s status symbol as the handset of choice for executives has also been tarnished. Employees have clamoured to use their own smartphones for work purposes, and many financial and government organisations, traditionally BlackBerry’s core, have allowed them to bring their devices to work.
The months following January are seen as make or break for BlackBerry manufacturer Research in Motion. It has chosen 30 January as the date to showcase its new BlackBerry 10 devices. While apps are seen as critical to the long-term health of the operating system, the relative lack of them compared with Android and Apple is generally seen as the main reason why consumers moved away from BlackBerry and why Windows Phone has yet to catch fire with the public as the industry hoped.
RIM has been holding a range of app development workshops as part of its BlackBerry Jam World Tour to show how developers can build apps for the forthcoming operating system. But it is not just the likes of Angry Birds Star Wars, Instagram and Skype that are vital to the company’s future. It has been holding a series of 11 app development workshops for enterprise developers, with London’s taking place at the end of October. Each session hosted around 100 developers, usually third-party companies that build apps for a range of clients.
Gregg Ostrowski, RIM’s senior director for enterprise developer partnerships, said the key focus of the workshops was highlighting how apps can be built allowing users to access behind the firewall data. At its most basic level, employees will be able to have data pushed to them from servers through specially built apps. He said: ‘One example is a sales rep who has tied into a customer relationship management application. It can piggyback onto GPS and see all the stores or all of its customers within a certain radius.’He said other uses will include the ability to build apps that manage workflow or use specific services in the field. ‘Workflow is great for employee productivity but field services are better for changing how you do your business.’
But how can BlackBerry compete against the pull of Apple and Android, as employees bring their own devices to work? Ostrowski argued that while using your own handset for work purposes can be compelling, it does not deliver the full range of services that a corporation may want. He said: ‘Competitors who are getting into the enterprise space are just offering their consumers email. BlackBerry can give users full separation between their work and personal lives.’
BlackBerry does this using its Balance feature, which separates work and personal data, effectively splitting the phone in two. Balance is a key plank of BB10, and Ostrowski said this ability to offer consumers the apps they will want to use in their free time, as well as offer businesses the apps they will want their staff to use during the working day, without risking data, will pay off.
He said: ‘The key differentiator is does it make the chief information officer as happy as the end user? By having access to social networks as well as the ability to keep sensitive data safe, you can keep in mind concerns about security as well as what the trends in the market are.’