Dec 03, 2010 (03:12 AM EST)
Four Steps To BlackBerry Success in 2011
Read the Original Article at InformationWeek
Research In Motion, once alone atop the corporate smart phone mountain, must have done some serious soul searching this year. Its market share is now 15% according to Morgan Stanley figures; not really a drop, but others have passed it by (Android 25%, Apple iOS 17%). Many IT shops still hold dearly to RIM's principled and unparalleled approach to security, but they're like weary fighters in a 12th-round clench.
Skeptics say RIM's best days are behind it, but lately it has landed some body shots that position the company for an exciting 2011; this includes aggressively embracing mobile web application development, extending its push messaging architecture to more enterprise applications, building its PlayBook tablet, and, with Thursday's acquisition of user experience wizards The Astonishing Tribe (TAT), accepting blingy consumer trends.
Jim Balsillie, RIM's notoriously quotable co-CEO, made absolutely no apologies in a recent conversation. He seemed unphased, if not combative about what many perceive as RIM's failure to grow, saying that the company's enterprise business is still growing. "There have always been competitors," he said. "We've swapped out a couple old names, swapped in a couple new ones."
But companies are assessing their business systems around mobility, Balsillie said. That means mobilizing everything from unified communications to workflow to collaboration. While he agreed that a consumer effect has driven this, enterprise systems must still be enterprise grade; that is, they "must be reliable, global, scalable, manageable . . . that's the dynamic at play." Naturally he believes RIM is in the best position to solve that paradox.
RIM Must Clarify Its Developer Story
With BlackBerry's Java heritage combined with the forthcoming Playbook's QNX platform, and a host of new WebWorks tools the company announced at its recent developers conference, the development vision has seemed murky. Balsillie is pretty clear, though: it's all about using standard web creation and development tools for mobile applications; and he sees native mobile applications eventually giving way to mobile web applications. "There's no need for native mobile apps," he said. "All you need is the web."
Balsillie also bristled at the app store counting game the media likes to play. "We have ten times more applications than Apple," he told me, "because we support Adobe and those tools." And, he noted, lots of enterprise applications don't show up on an app store.
Now, he said, developers can build Flash or AIR applications, or, with WebWorks they can use standard tools to build web applications that can access underlying BlackBerry services like GPS, Push, multi-tasking and more. They can even publish these applications in the BlackBerry app store.
Many developers argue that when building web-based apps, the performance just isn't there yet, either because mobile networks are congested and slow, or native device functions don't work as well; or that application connectivity needs will jack up end-user data costs. At the most recent Web 2.0 Summit in early November, Balsillie insisted that RIM stood for performance, and pointed at recent tests comparing Playbook and iPad performance; the Playbook sports a multicore processor and a real-time OS. Presumably we'll see this approach seep into other BlackBerry products. (You can watch Balsillie's discussion at Web 2.0 in the video embedded below.)
If RIM is right -- if it can provide superior performance and a mobile web mentality shift happens -- it will be much easier for developers to justify writing more BlackBerry applications. The evangalism must be strong in 2011, but it might take until 2012 for success.
RIM Must Appeal To Consumers
Months ago a commenter on InformationWeek's discussion board said that BlackBerries were great for teenage girls who wanted to go around looking like businessmen. In response, someone wrote that iPhones were for businessmen who wanted to go around looking like teenage girls. The Point: the BlackBerry has lost its cache with the modern consumer. While the Torch was an enormous improvement, combining the best of the BlackBerry keyboard experience with a useable touch interface, most users complain that it still doesn't perform well -- the result of a much slower processor than its well-known competitors.
Balsillie emphasized the importance of performance, so the Torch is likely to be improved shortly; perhaps next-generation BlackBerry devices will even leapfrog today's typical mobile processors with dual-core processing; on stage at Web 2.0, he hinted that quad-core processors were coming soon. But this just becomes an arms race: once one company has it, the rest will follow. Instead, RIM needs something that can differentiate its offerings; sure, they're amazingly simple and effective, but there's just no bling.
Enter RIM's acquisition of The Astonishing Tribe (TAT), designers of some pretty wicked user interface concepts. TAT said in a recent conversation that its technology is in 15% of all phones shipped globally, including those made by Nokia, Samsung (including the Galaxy S) and Ericsson; and in cars of one of the two main U.S. auto makers (the company wouldn't say which). This Swedish company, with 170 employees, said its expertise -- in operating systems, hardware, applications, graphic design, branding and marketing -- is essentially "the chile in the guacamole."
This isn't just about pretty screens. TAT has invested in augmented reality, coupling screens and sensors; and transitions from 2D to 3D environments; and multiple screen devices; not to mention bendable screens -- a great example of that in the video embedded below. It is also working on things like mid-air gesture controls, pico projectors, and projection into the air (including holographs). It will be ready to demonstrate some of the gesture concepts early next year, the company said.
If RIM can maximize TAT's capability for its own benefit, pass the chips and watch out.
RIM Playbook Must Kill
The tablet market is going to get crowded quickly. Today, Apple and Samsung are having all the fun, but early next year there will be a continuous stream of devices from Microsoft (partners), HP/Palm, Dell and Cisco, just to name a few. The Playbook has only been seen behind glass, or more recently on stage; I tried to spy one in Balsillie's hotel room, but either it was well hidden or non-existent.
The Playbook, with its multicore processor and what RIM terms web fidelity (pixel perfect rendering, support for Flash), should perform well, but it must stand out. One way RIM plans to do that is by essentially pairing the device to a BlackBerry (via BlueTooth), so that it inherits all of the security that BES provides. That should make IT feel better about this tablet than almost any other (Cisco's Cius also promises to take enterprise needs into consideration).
Balsillie says the tablet simply addresses how computing is changing, but for mobility end users "need a mobile services platform" with "enabling apps and enterprise grade" robustness. When asked how he'll judge success, all he would reveal is that the company has internal unit plans and that "we feel good about the pent up demand."
In recent days, RIM has proffered conversations with IT executives at variety of companies that are planning to use the Playbook; these include ING Direct Canada, TD Bank, Denver International Airport and SAP. (Read about some of these Playbook plans here.)
RIM Must Press Its Enterprise Advantage
RIM won (and still wins) because it meets nearly every possible IT criteria, especially where security and policy enforcement is concerned. It also won (and still wins) because its push e-mail architecture is a reliable workhorse. In short, BlackBerry does a few things exceedingly well -- so well, in fact, that over the years those things have been taken for granted. The truth is, nobody has come close to matching the BES architecture. It is rock solid, it is secure, it lets administrators centrally control every single aspect of end user devices, and it is optimized for speed.
This year, RIM extended the BES capabilities in a variety of ways, making a lighter version for small businesses and individuals (BES Express), and extending the architecture to include Voice Over IP over WiFi (MVS 5.0).
Meanwhile, at its developer conference in September, RIM announced BEAM, a middleware platform for mobilizing enterprise services. Essentially, the company began building connectors on top of BES for things like Lotus Notes and Microsoft Sharepoint; the data gateway capability of BES had to be enhanced, and as RIM did this it realized the enhancements could be leveraged for more applications.
Oracle, SAP and IBM each demonstrated mobilized versions of their applications using BEAM. The BEAM server is a Java application server, with libraries that can be called from existing tools (for example, there are native Oracle Fusion services). No special SDKs.
In this scheme, the device becomes a container to accept push messages (using XML) in the typical BlackBerry user experience (like the inbox). According to RIM, a developer who creates an Oracle Fusion application just needs to add a few lines of code and they get a rich mobile client experience -- a workflow, for example, can get integrated into an inbox (or a calendar or any other native BlackBerry container; the applications can also access other BlackBerry features, like location data). There are also container libraries to build your own applications.
Oracle demonstrated an insurance adjuster application, where the application pushed the car's location, the driver's contact information, and scheduled an appointment in the calendar; the application also provided information on the car and a diagram to annotate and push back to the enterprise.
RIM describes this environment as a service model, where you can keep your business logic investment and very simply create a mobile version of that experience. Balsillie thinks this will let Playbook users, for instance, run real time business intelligence on the tablet, not to mention unified communication, workflow approvals and corporate video.
This is precisely what the enterprise needs, and if RIM can succeed it won't matter as much whether there's a BlackBerry version of Angry Birds. But in order to succeed, RIM needs to spread its newest gospel more broadly among the converted.
Fritz Nelson is the editorial director for InformationWeek and the Executive Producer of TechWebTV. Fritz writes about startups and established companies alike, but likes to exploit multiple forms of media into his writing.
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