Research In Motion has long dominated the mobile enterprise, but there are signs the BlackBerry’s days as the phone of choice for business users may be coming to end. RIM’s traction in the enterprise won’t fade quickly, but if the company can’t deliver a dramatically upgraded OS in BlackBerry 6.0, its days as the dominant player in the mobile enterprise will be numbered. Apple and Google are already moving aggressively to poach its customers, and the battle to supplant RIM is already well under way.
RIM shares sank last week after it posted quarterly shipment figures and subscriber additions that fell short of expectations. And while RIM reported an impressive 40 percent jump in earnings over the year-ago period, that wasn’t enough to assuage the eight analysts who slashed targets on the stock Friday.
More damning than the analysts’ skepticism though, is this little tidbit from a survey by the startup Appcelerator: Barely one-third of mobile app developers are “very interested” in developing for BlackBerry OS, and only one percent of respondents said RIM’s platform “has the most capabilities as an OS.” That’s a far cry from the interest developers showed in the iPhone (90 percent) and Android (81 percent) handsets, and it’s a huge concern for a company whose success will increasingly hinge on BlackBerry App World. In fact, BlackBerry drew little more interest than Windows Phone 7, which won’t come to market for months. Which demonstrates that developers aren’t buying co-CEO Jim Balsillie’s claim that the upcoming BlackBerry OS 6.0 will be a “quantum leap over anything that’s out there.”
BlackBerry’s stumble comes as the iPhone and Android are increasing their focus on the enterprise. As the Wall Street Journal noted last week, IT departments are increasingly responding to the demands of employees and supporting the iPhone. Apple earlier this year said 70 percent of Fortune 100 companies were testing or deploying iPhones, and AT&T recently said 40 percent of new iPhones are sold to companies or individuals with corporate discounts. Meanwhile, Google last week stepped up its corporate game by launching Android 2.2 to open source, enabling developers to create apps that leverage enterprise capabilities and Google’s cloud computing assets, and by adding new security features in the latest version. Google is clearly positioning the upcoming Motorola Droid X as a business phone, and Android got a corporate boost last week when IBM gave the OS its seal of approval for business apps.
Apple and Google have serious flaws when it comes to the enterprise, though. The lack of support for Flash is a glaring shortcoming that prevents iPhone users from accessing the web in full. Also, the iPhone’s security — which is a key selling point for the OS — was recently called into question when an IT professional discovered that content stored on a password-protected iPhone 3GS can be accessed without the password. Android has also seen its share of security woes, thanks in part to Google’s laissez-faire strategy in approving Android Market apps. And while Google has a strategy in place for addressing its fragmentation problems, multiple versions of Android in use today are a problem for IT staffers who must determine which specific handsets can support which apps.
Those shortcomings give RIM a little more time to right the ship with BlackBerry and create an OS that businesses can enjoy rather than endure. But they also open the door for Microsoft to strike in the enterprise with Windows Phone 7. That OS reportedly enables users to easily sync with multiple Exchange servers, and its “Office Hub” serves as a stripped-down version of Microsoft Office that replicates the desktop experience.
So despite RIM’s huge audience and it being a default enterprise handset, developers of non-business apps should remain hesitant of building out their wares for BlackBerry users — for now, at least. Apple and Google are strengthening their offerings for corporate use, but both have vulnerabilities, and perhaps that 27 percent of developers who are “very interested” in building atop Windows Phone 7 have the right idea. In any case, businesses looking to deploy mobile devices should, at the end of the day, consider all available options.