RIM Updates Mobile Fusion, Enterprise Server

RIM added new features to its Mobile Fusion and Enterprise Server products on Thursday, hoping to stop the bleeding as it heads toward BlackBerry 10 release.
Down but possibly not out, Research in Motion released free updates on Thursday for BlackBerry Mobile Fusion and BlackBerry Enterprise Server. The upgrades arrive as the Ontario-based company continues to hemorrhage market share due to the BYOD-driven ascension of Android and iOS-based devices in the enterprise space. RIM's hopes for resurgence are partly tied to the upcoming BlackBerry 10 family of smartphones, slated for release in Q1 of 2013.

Service Pack 1 for BlackBerry Mobile Fusion, the company's mobile device management platform, expands the utility's reach to an additional 37 countries, bringing the tally to 81. The product adds new features for iOS devices, including improved tools to distribute apps, and to configure WiFI, VPN, and ActiveSync. BlackBerry PlayBook tablets will also gain new capabilities, notably Over The Air enrollment, and configuration of devices and full device encryption and certificate-based authentication with Microsoft Exchange. PlayBook users will have to wait for a forthcoming update to the Playbook OS, however.

Service Pack 4 for BlackBerry Enterprise Server version 5, meanwhile, is available for Microsoft Exchange and IBM's Lotus Domino. Support for Novell GroupWise will arrive in November. The update also includes new benefits for both administrators and end users. On the IT side, upgrades include access controls for groups, BlackBerry Administration Service enhancements, and a variety of security patches. For employees, new perks range from better HTML handling in emails and support for larger email attachments to improved graphics rendering for PowerPoint attachments and support for password-protected Microsoft Office attachments.

[ For more on RIM in the enterprise, see RIM Customers To Face BES Fragmentation. ]

Of course, the service packs come in the wake of significant struggles. IDC announced in August that RIM's Q2 market share had dwindled to a mere 4.8%, a 41% year-over-year decline. During the same period, IDC found that iOS and Android were up 27.5% and 106.5%, respectively, cornering a combined 85% of the market. An analysis by Chitika was even grimmer: RIM products accounted for only 1% of total Web traffic from September of 2011 to July of 2012. Apple's mobile products, in contrast, accounted for a massive 63%.

Outside of statistical measures, the picture remains bleak. Yahoo recently dumped RIM as its chosen mobile enterprise provider, opting instead for a more open BYOD environment. Good Technology evidently sees other companies following suit; it launched a service on August 19 to help companies that need to expedite their transitions from RIM to new platforms.

Some have speculated that RIM could rebound by licensing its products, perhaps to Samsung.

Savid Technologies CEO Mike Davis remarked during a phone interview that RIM's decline is in some regards unfortunate, as the company has actually produced compelling features and innovations. He cited BlackBerry Balance's ability to easily differentiate personal data from business data as a particular appeal.

Gartner analysts Philip Redman said in an interview that it's a bit of a myth that enterprises have purged themselves of RIM products. The devices' meager share of the market owes largely to a precipitous decline in the number of units bought by consumers. Redman said BlackBerrys remain the second most popular single phone line in the workplace, behind the iPhone. Even so, he expects RIM to continue declining in this space, perhaps accounting for as few as 1 in 10 enterprise phones by next year, down from around 1 in 4 currently.

Redman shared some of Davis's praise for RIM, stating that BlackBerrys are the best-managed and most secure devices. Still, he countered that RIM might actually take its enterprise focus to an extreme. "Most companies are not implementing all the possibilities" that the devices already offer, he said, adding, "More policies are not going to help."

He said that the user experience has become a cornerstone of the BYOD environment, and that to contend in this space, RIM needs better app support. It's too late for the company to build its own ecosystem, Redman asserted, noting Apple's near-insurmountable head start. He suggested the company might succeed by licensing another OS, such as Android, and applying itself toward "building compelling devices." Redman pointed out that the strategy worked for Samsung, and it could work for RIM too.

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