The real reason Obama can't swap his BlackBerry for an iPhone

BlackBerry brings more BES capabilities to iOS and Android devices, and begins to rationalize its messy server options

We all know that BlackBerry is in trouble, with its new, decent BlackBerry 10 smartphones fizzling in the market and the company finding no buyers when it sought a way out of its fast-shrinking market earlier this year. But we were reminded this past week of why BlackBerry still matters for a lot of companies: President Barack Obama told an interviewer that as much as he loves the iPhone, the Secret Service won't let him use it because they can't secure it like they can a BlackBerry.

My first thought was, "yeah, right -- that's just fuddy-duddy security people resisting the changing world." But I reminded myself that the U.S. Defense Department did certify iOS devices and some Samsung devices this spring for most government use. The Secret Service is also considering a deployment of Samsung devices to its agents, despite the difficulties that the Defense Deptartment has had in getting Samsung's Knox technology to work as promised. In any event, the prohibition against iPhone usage for Obama is likely from real concerns, given the feds' recent openness to iOS and Android.

[ Mobile security: iOS vs. Android vs. Samsung SAFE vs. BlackBerry vs. Windows Phone. | A clear-eyed guide to Android's actual security risks. | Keep up on key mobile developments and insights with the Mobilize newsletter. ]

In the meantime, BlackBerry has been trying to tell the world that its BlackBerry Enterprise Service 10 (BES10), which first shipped last spring, does more than manage BlackBerrys. I knew that, but even those who do know that often don't know why they would use BlackBerry's BES10 for iOS and Android over one from a more-established MDM vendor like Airespace, AirWatch, Citrix Systems, Fiberlink, Fixmo, Good Technology, MobileIron, SAP Afaria, Soti, or any of a dozen others.

The answer to that question is also part of the answer to why Obama can't use an iPhone -- at least not until his presidency ends.

BlackBerry has bungled its marketing of BES10, announcing it months before it was ready -- a common failing at BlackBerry -- then changing the features every few months. Mass confusion was the result. The first version, released last winter, managed just BlackBerry 10 devices, then an add-on component whose name changed several times was released later to manage iOS and Android devices. The second version (BES10.1), released last June, merged the iOS and Android management into the core BES10.

In both cases, if you had BlackBerry devices running BlackBerry OS 5 through 7 -- in other words, basically all the BlackBerrys in use -- you had to manage them separately with BlackBerry Enterprise Server 5 (BES5). Recently, BlackBerry provided an upgrade to BES5 so it could manage BlackBerry 10, Android, and iOS devices from a single console, finally letting IT use a platform it already had in place.

That's a big shift that few people seem to know has occurred. It's also a critical one. Before that upgrade, using BES10 for iOS and Android -- the devices companies now use -- meant getting a second server, and that requirement caused many IT organizations to get it from a company other than BlackBerry. Given that BES handles about half the managed devices in use today, according to 451 Group's mobile analyst Chris Hazelton, BlackBerry's "make them buy a second server" approach had threatened one of the few successful parts of the BlackBerry business -- needlessly.

Last June, BlackBerry began offering BlackBerry users the option of a secure workspace. Basically, a set of apps and their data are kept in a container walled off from the rest of the device. You must use the email, browser, contacts, and calendar apps as well as the bundled, so-so editing tool DocsToGo in that workspace for business documents, and then use the device's native client and your own apps for everything else.

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