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NeatFreak managing director John Collins prefers the keyboard of the BlackBerry over the smartphones with touchscreens. (J.P. MOCZULSKI for The Globe and Mail)
NeatFreak managing director John Collins prefers the keyboard of the BlackBerry over the smartphones with touchscreens. (J.P. MOCZULSKI for The Globe and Mail)

RIM’s BlackBerry 10: Will business buy in? Add to ...

“We continue to reside in over 90 per cent of the Fortune 500 and continue to be the dominant management platform based on the strength that BlackBerry has enjoyed in enterprises in years gone by,” Mr. Devenyi said in an interview, acknowledging that RIM has adapted to “bring your own device” policies. Still, he says, “We do believe that we have the most secure, the most diverse mobile device management platform, supporting more devices, including BlackBerry devices and other devices, natively, than any other provider out there – and doing it better, based on a decade of experience.”

WIRELESS OPERATORS ARE KEY

The market still seems to have at least some confidence in a RIM comeback: In the four months leading up to the late January launch date, RIM’s stock has nearly tripled from a low of around $6 to just under $18. But Chetan Sharma, an influential U.S. telecoms and device consultant, compares RIM’s recent momentum to the expectations around the Windows Phone, which despite strong reviews, attractive devices and an enormous marketing push from Microsoft Corp. and Nokia Corp., has largely failed to gain traction.

“In the U.S. there will probably be slow growth, if any [for RIM],” Mr. Sharma says. “At best, it will be slow. At worst, it will not move the needle, and the decline will continue.”

RIM is still more popular than Microsoft Corp.’s Windows Phone software as a business alternative to Apple and Android. In a survey of 256 IT leaders at companies in the U.S., San Francisco-based wireless consultant Maribel Lopez found that 67 per cent of them supported “bring your own device” policies. The BlackBerry still had much more support than the Windows Phone among IT professionals – with 23 per cent of respondents saying they plan to support RIM and only 3 per cent for Microsoft. “Many U.S. CIOs still harbour hopes that RIM will make a comeback,” Ms. Lopez says.

And it is important what happens at the wireless operators, as well. Mr. Sharma notes that the success of the new BlackBerrys will depend, to some degree, on how well major carrier such as Verizon Wireless and AT&T Inc. push the devices with promotions, subsidized prices and plans for businesses. “Publicly, every operator has said they’re excited,” Mr. Sharma notes. “But it just comes down to ... whether they push these devices in the market. When you go to the store, will the salespeople be pushing BlackBerrys or not? That question has still to be answered.”

There is also a question of RIM muddling its message a bit when it comes to small to medium-sized businesses – those not wooed personally by RIM – who are anticipating the new device. One wireless executive at a major Canadian carrier, who declined to be named because of a business relationship with RIM, said he worried that many business clients were getting a little confused about whether the first BlackBerry 10 phone to launch will have a keyboard.

“I think a lot of their existing, remaining, loyal – particularly business – clients have it because it has a physical keyboard,” the executive said. “Their touch keyboard is really kind of cool, you know, it learns how you type and all that, but it is not a physical keyboard. So, if you’re somebody who was waiting for the new BlackBerry 10 and you just assumed that it would have a keyboard and now you find out it doesn’t, what will that do?”

Of course, bringing out BlackBerry 10 phones and then launching what is likely to be a global marketing blitz is just the beginning for RIM: The devices actually have to perform. And not only that, they have to perform better than iPhones and Androids or people will pass. Alex Buhler, CIO for Vancouver-based Mountain Equipment Co-op, is one of those who would need to be convinced. He says MEC – a national co-operative retail chain selling outdoor gear – is 99 per cent iPhones, and its customers are not far behind: The mobile traffic coming to MEC’s website is 76 per cent iPhone, 20 per cent Android and only 4 per cent BlackBerry. And MEC is a Canada-wide retailer. Mr. Buhler, who uses an iPhone, says some CIOs have never stopped using BlackBerrys and await the new phones eagerly. But his own view of the situation is at least partly influenced by what his teenage daughter did when he passed down his BlackBerry.

“I had a BlackBerry Bold and I gave it to her – and then she switched to an iPhone,” he said in an interview. “You want to cheer for the local team, but the local team has to deliver.”

With a report from Rita Trichur

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