BlackBerry Ltd. kicked off its arrival at the annual Mobile World Congress in Barcelona with a slew of business enterprise software announcements that signal the company's progress on its turnaround plan.
The Waterloo, Ont.-based company provided details about several new software products that emphasized BlackBerry's focus on extending its enterprise software to competing mobile operating systems such as Apple's iOS, Google's Android and Windows Phones.
The annual trade show, being held from March 2 to 5, is expected to attract more than 90,000 executives, analysts, entrepreneurs and journalists, as well as some of the big names in mobile technology, from Intel to Samsung, and Google to Qualcomm.
The announcements include making BlackBerry Enterprise Server 12, its mobile device management platform, available directly to business customers of U.S. wireless provider Sprint. A cloud-hosted version of the software (traditionally installed on a company's own systems) is also being rolled out, and a new SIM-based licensing program will make carrier billing and pay-as-you-go service packages available on several international wireless providers.
"BlackBerry has melted down to a core franchise, and it wants to consolidate that," says Roger Kay, an analyst with Endpoint Technologies Associates Inc. "[BlackBerry Enterprise Server] is still best in class, and if they can package it in some new ways, that's an attractive offering."
There were also announcements related to the company's secure health-care information business and a new spy-defeating encrypted phone call product developed between its Secusmart business and German telecom operator Vodaphone. It also sent out a release teasing attendees with hints of a new set of "BlackBerry Experience" productivity apps it will offer, such as wireless conferencing apps and remote document-editing tools.
The recurring theme is that under chief executive John Chen, BlackBerry is becoming a cross-platform software company.
"BlackBerry now feels confident enough that its offerings will avoid being swamped when decoupled from the hardware," said Carmi Levy, technology analyst with Voices.com, a London, Ont.-based tech firm. "Just like Microsoft recognizing that it needs to have versions of its iconic products available for iOS and Android."
In a Tuesday news event, Mr. Chen is expected to reveal some of the company's hardware plans for 2015. Rumours have swirled about a new touchscreen device that drops the physical keyboard, possibly a successor to the five-inch Z30.
Analysts didn't expect much in the way of groundbreaking news, though Endpoint's Mr. Kay believes BlackBerry will take the opportunity to highlight any new partnerships or large-customer orders to reassure investors.
The week is expected to be packed with news from BlackBerry's competitors. On Monday, Google Inc. confirmed its plans to build its own cellular data network in the United States, and recently rolled out its own enterprise offering, Android at Work.
"The smartphone OS wars have been fought and won largely by Android and iOS," wrote Kevin Restivo, an independent technology analyst formerly with IDC's mobile group. "But there's still ways BlackBerry can complement the victors and be relevant especially to enterprises in the West."