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BlackBerry Z10: My First Week

I love the keyboard and UI. But the BlackBerry Z10 is missing too many key apps -- and betting big on enterprise IT's approval.
BlackBerry has made some significant changes in its enterprise support. For one, BlackBerry devices can use Microsoft ActiveSync, so they can connect directly to a Microsoft Exchange server (or Office 365) without going through BES at all. However, when a BlackBerry 10 device connects to BES, ActiveSync gets tunneled using BlackBerry protocols (and thus, it takes advantage of 256-bit, end-to-end encryption, as always).

BlackBerry senior VP for enterprise software Peter Devenyi said that BES uses a new set of protocols for this communication. Thus, BlackBerry 10 only works with a BES 10 server. The good news is that BlackBerry lets an enterprise run a BES 10 server on top of or alongside BES 5. In fact, you can manage BlackBerry 10 devices, older BlackBerry phones and even iOS and Android devices all from a single console. Android and iOS communication happens the same way: ActiveSync wrapped in BlackBerry protocols, all running over the BlackBerry infrastructure without the need for VPNs or opening ports on firewalls.

The BES server is, of course, free -- you simply pay for each licensed BlackBerry it manages (or Android or iOS device). More good news: the company is allowing a one-for-one trade-in for all of 2013. That is, for every BES 5 key an enterprise gives up, it can replace it with a BES 10 key at no additional cost. Naturally, BlackBerry wants to give all of its loyal customers a reason to quickly and cost effectively migrate users to BlackBerry 10.

One of the much-touted new features of BlackBerry 10 involves BES 10 and Balance. BlackBerry Balance has been around for a while, and it lets BlackBerry users keep personal applications and data separate from their work activities. Balance has been redesigned for BlackBerry 10, and with a simple swipe downward, you get the choice to be in personal or work mode. Each mode is clearly differentiated. Because our parent company doesn't run a BES 10 server, I couldn't test this functionality.

Balance only works when the Z10 (or other BlackBerry 10 device) is enrolled into the BES. Corporations can control what's in the work mode, allowing only the use of certain applications -- or enforcing the use of a set of workplace applications. There are two different BlackBerry Worlds, the app marketplace. Work applications contain a briefcase icon. There are applications, such as calendars and email, where all personal and work data get brought together, but there's no data leakage between these worlds. This container approach to separating data is very compelling.

The BES 10 management of iOS and Android devices uses the standard management hooks provided by each OS, but BlackBerry just announced that it is beta testing Secure Workspace, which will provide a Balance-like solution for iOS and Android. It is a closed beta for now.

Without some of the fancy features of other phones, BlackBerry's support for strong enterprise-class features is still its biggest standout. The company's recognition of the onslaught of other devices in the workplace, by way of direct BES support, bodes well for its general outlook and survival. But survival doesn't necessarily equal success.

When buyers decide on a new phone, it is less and less about the actual phone, and more about the overall environment they're buying into. In many ways, that environment is powered by a cloud (Apple iCloud, Google Drive, Microsoft SkyDrive) that collects and aggregates key user data (about location, music and other media, monetary exchange, browsing history, and much more), and turns it into something personal and possibly both dangerous and exciting: the phone as personal digital assistant. Look no further than what Google is doing with its Google Now service, which is, perhaps, the future of mobile.

BlackBerry has none of this, and it will live and die with BlackBerry 10, these new phones, and the hope that features like BlackBerry Balance, and the endorsement of IT, will win the day.

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