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June 4, 2014updated 22 Sep 2016 1:23pm

6 ways BlackBerry plans to save its business

Interview: The phone maker remains attached to its keyboard, but what else does it have up its sleeve?

By Joe Curtis

BlackBerry was once the king of cool, but is now teetering on the edge of the smartphone market.

The mobile phone manufacturer has lost out to the likes of Apple, Samsung and Google in the consumer space, and global shipments are predicted to fall by nearly 50% this year, according to IDC.

The analyst house claimed last week that the company’s global market share will drop below 1% by the end of 2014, and predicted that it will suffer a protracted death over the next four years to hit 0.3% come 2018.

Everyone seems to know that the game is up. Everyone except BlackBerry, that is.

The firm’s senior VP for Europe, Markus Mueller, used the BlackBerry Experience event in London today (June 3) to outline the group’s strategy to save itself by playing to its strengths as an enterprise offering.

Here’s six ways it plans to recapture some of the enterprise market.

Goodbye, consumers!

Mueller was quick to admit that BlackBerry’s consumer strategy hasn’t worked out, and announced that the company is "recommitting to the enterprise space".

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He added: "That’s what [CEO] John Chen said when he came on board in November. He told us to focus, and if you want to focus, you need to focus on the battles you can win. BlackBerry devices might not necessarily be a device for everybody."

The concession came as he admitted the business made a mistake trying to take BlackBerry 10 (the operating system) to consumers.

"What we did with BlackBerry 10, how we approached the market, maybe that was a battle in the broad consumer space which we couldn’t have won in the first place. Enterprise is our heritage, that’s where our security matters, that’s where our trust matters."

More focus on enterprise software

He went on to say that BlackBerry devices are primarily productivity tools aimed at businesspeople "with busy lives".

To that end, he said Chen’s arrival brought more of a focus on enterprise software solutions.

Mueller said: "Quite honestly, in the past the software part was always what we needed because we wanted to sell devices to businesses. This has to change now. We have a device business, which obviously we will run moving forward, but at the same time we want to focus more on the software side."

He added that BlackBerry wants to be the "true mobility platform provider" for companies, providing not only its own apps, but the company’s own and third parties’ too, with BlackBerry Enterprise Service (BES) 10 and BES12, its mobile device and application management solutions.

He told the audience: "Going forward to BES12 you will see we are actually moving out further to mobile application enablement. We want to become the true mobility platform provider for everything within the enterprise and obviously part of that everything might also be that you create your own mobile apps, and we want to be the enabler for that."

Open platform

Yes, BlackBerry is belatedly learning what Microsoft is also trying to come to grips with: when you don’t have a monopoly, you have to play nice. That means the mobile phone maker is opening up as a platform – as mentioned briefly above – to work with other companies too. This has already occurred to a certain extent, with BlackBerry releasing its BB10 APIs earlier this month to allow third-party mobile device management (MDM) firms like Citrix, SAP and IBM to build solutions.

Android and iOS are also compatible on BES10, but with BES12, Mueller said, Windows Phone will be supported as well.

"We want to enhance that in BES12 and beyond and really create a full mobility platform for our enterprise customers," he confirmed. "From end to end, from a restrictive model out to a [looser] model, everything’s supported."

 

Security

Of course, everyone knows BlackBerry’s major saving grace is its security IP. It’s built into the operating system, meaning it can’t be opened up to the same extent to support the notoriously dodgy Android, or iOS. But it’s enough of a plus to help the security conscious plump for it over a consumer-focused rival.

Mueller said: "Security is so important and since the Snowden affair CSOs talk about it [a lot] but today we also see individuals care more about privacy.

"When we see companies, we see security becoming a more and more important part of the discussion: 83.9 million corporat- liable devices will be shipped in 2016."

 

The, er, keyboard

Yeah. Okay, so it hasn’t changed much in the last decade, but let’s face it, BlackBerry’s keyboard remains the one to have for anybody who wants emails sent from their mobile to actually make sense.

When I asked Mueller whether he saw a reliance on the keyboard as a weakness, he said it was about giving customers options: BlackBerry do a rather nifty touchscreen keyboard too, these days.

COPE

It may be the word written on a post-it note stuck to John Chen’s computer, but COPE is also an acronym. It stands for ‘corporate-owned, personally-enabled’ and is kind of just a different term for ‘choose-your-own-device’ (CYOD), where the company gives you the chance to pick from a list of approved mobile devices it will hand out.

Mueller was insistent that COPE was a middle-ground between firms relaxed about securing personal mobile devices (a.k.a. pretty much nobody, in BlackBerry’s opinion) and companies that restrict everything.

The VP said: "For many companies BYOD became a nightmare. First of all, having to manage a multitude of different devices with a multitude if different operating systems. Thinking about Android alone, it has so many variances of systems and that becomes a big, big challenge. It turned out not to save money for many companies but to actually give them more costs.

"COPE is a model we see broadly developing for the market. Most of the time as experienced at least in the markets I serve, most people use a COPE model, taking one devices and using it for personal usage."

This is a good way in for BlackBerry, because it can carry on talking to the business rather than the consumer, but it’s also got to persuade the business that people won’t mind either having two devices, or that they won’t mind having BlackBerry as their only device.

But with Mueller claiming BlackBerry now supports 90% of Android apps, perhaps it has the wealth of applications available to win that argument.

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