BlackBerry: Confident enough to go beyond BlackBerry

At BlackBerry Live event, CEO Thorsten Heins unveiled new devices and discussed company's mobile computing vision

Around four months after the launch of the Z10, BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins took to the stage at the BlackBerry Live event to tie together the company's consumer and enterprise stories, and to expand on his mobile computing vision.

The biggest takeaway: BlackBerry is doubling down on its strengths -- including midrange phones and device management -- and has enough confidence to open up parts of its business to other platforms.

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Here's a rundown of what was announced today.

Hero phones aren't for everyone

While hero phones like the iPhone and Samsung Galaxy lineup may get all the press, they're not for everyone. It's the midrange devices that capture the vast majority of sales, and that market drove much of BlackBerry's international expansion and cemented its entry-smartphone role in more mature markets.

With this in mind, Heins unveiled a new, lower-cost 4G BlackBerry device, the Q5. It's a hybrid QWERTY device with a 3.1-inch touchscreen, available in a range of bright colors. Heins noted that IDC is predicting that by 2016, the global mobile workforce will be over 1.3 billion, giving BlackBerry an opportunity to deliver the mobile-first computing experience that that the next generation of mobile workers will be looking for.

Existing BB10 devices won't be left behind. The Z10 will be upgraded to the new 10.1 release of BB10, adding support for HDR photography, along with improvements to the Hub notifications service. The 10.1 release will also add features needed to support Skype, which will be released for the Z10 as well as for the Q10. International devices will be upgraded to 10.1 over the next week, with U.S. devices to follow shortly. BlackBerry device updates used to be rare, so a commitment to regular updates is an important change, and one that's necessary in the fast- moving mobile space.

The broader mobile computing vision

Heins came in for some criticism recently around remarks he made about the future of tablets and the tablet market, so he took time to explore the company's mobile computing vision. Using the QNX demonstration Bentley, he showed how a large-screen device (here built into a car) could be controlled by a phone, including scheduling and managing updates, and integrating with BlackBerry's cloud services.

With QNX's real-time OS at the core of embedded systems all over the world, BlackBerry's mobile computing vision is one where smartphones serve as a bridge between users and the "Internet of things." Heins pointed out that the pieces are in place, "It's mobile computing, with one element on your hip, in your pocket; how it relates to large screens is a technical issue. In five years, it'll be connecting to screens and to cars."

Secure work space and BYOD

While much of the focus on BlackBerry has been on the consumer side of the business, BlackBerry 10 provides a powerful platform for BYOD, from its range of application development tools to the Balance managed container that securely separates work and personal data and apps.

Much of BlackBerry's BYOD story builds on its BlackBerry Enterprise Server, which provides both secure device management and secure communications to the managed Work side of Balance. A new version of BES, 10.1, will add high-availability support as well as tooling for regulated industries. BES 10.1 is also the foundation for BlackBerry's Secure Work Space tool, which will add Balance-like features to Android and to iOS and a secure, VPN-less connection to company resources. Due in the summer, Secure Work Space will also allow developers to build apps that can take advantage of its managed storage and network.

It's easy to miss the importance of Secure Work Space to BlackBerry -- and to anyone implementing a BYOD policy. You'll be able to standardize on a single mobile device management platform for all your managed devices, with a per-device licensing model, and with access to BlackBerry's own secure data network. Users will be able to keep their own data separate from work data, while organizations will be able to reduce the risks of data loss and data leakage. It won't matter whether users are bringing iOS or Android devices in alongside BlackBerrys, the same tools will work for them all, for mail, for messaging, for file browsing, for document reading. While apps may not be fully portable, technologies like BlackBerry's HTML5 WebWorks platform will allow you to build apps that will offer basic cross-platform capabilities.

Opening BBM to other platforms

BlackBerry's device-to-device messaging platform has long been one of the jewels in its consumer crown. A new Channels feature can best be thought of as its version of Facebook's Pages, allowing brands and individuals to broadcast messages, photographs, and video. However, perhaps the biggest change to BBM is the announcement that it's going cross-platform, with the core messaging and groups features arriving on iOS 6 and Android ICS over the summer.

Opening up BBM to third-party platforms is a big change for BlackBerry -- possibly even bigger than its Secure Work Spaces coming to iOS and Android. It gives users access to a secure, device-to-device communication channel that supports one-to-one and one-to-many communications. While consumer services like WhatsApp may be more popular, BBM's secure underpinnings will mean it's more likely to gain acceptance across BYOD boundaries in organizations, facilitating communications between managed and unmanaged devices.

BlackBerry has done a lot to recover from what appeared to be a disastrous tailspin. It's had a profitable quarter, two successful device launches, and 120,000 apps in its BlackBerry store. BlackBerry Live is showing how the company, to steal its own tagline, keeps moving. While it's opening up elements of the BlackBerry platform to iOS and Android, the BB10 OS is also setting the foundations of Heins' mobile computing vision, where the hub of your digital life is in your pocket, bridging an Internet of people and an Internet of things -- and where work and personal co-exist on a single device.

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