BlackBerry OS 6.0 was supposed to change that, providing a common platform across all BlackBerry devices -- at least those released in 2010 and later. Now we find out that it was just another one-off OS, essentially for the Torch, that got some retrofits to bring its browser belatedly to a few other models.
When the Balance devices finally become available, existing users will have to ask if they can trust that this one is the real platform. Additionally, businesses will have to ask if they want yet another BlackBerry variant in the mix -- for them, migrating to a real platform such a iOS or Android would make a lot more management and support sense.
"We'll partially manage iOS and Android devices for you, too"
Balsillie also announced that a future version of BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) will manage both iOS devices such as the iPhone and iPad and Android devices. That's an idea long suggested by pundits like me. In the context of the Balance announcement, it's clear that BES is RIM's real platform, not its devices. RIM may be awakening to that realization.
But can you trust RIM to deliver? Its BES 5.03 update announced in September 2010 was released finally in April 2011, eight months after the Torch was released. That's significiant because the whole point of BES 5.03 was to support BlackBerry OS 6.0's ability to separately manage personal data and services from corporate data and services. This feature represented a key adaptation by RIM to the new world of mobile devices being "co-owned" by users and their companies. But look at how long it took to deliver.
Who knows when an iOS- and Android-savvy BES will be released? In the meantime, there are plenty of very capable, proven mobile device management tools for these platforms on the market. Most organizations are already shifting to a bring-your-own-device world and adopting such tools. By the time RIM gets around to a multiplatform BES, I'm not sure any company will still be waiting. After all, to add iOS and Android support, RIM had to buy another company (Ubitexx) -- it has a lot of work to do to actually get that technology transferred into BES. And the acquisition isn't even final.
RIM's execution pace is typically glacial. Given how poorly it integrated the QNX operating system it bought last year into the disappointing BlackBerry PlayBook tablet, why would any IT organization bet on this promise? The fact that the PlayBook isn't even manageable by BES should give any IT organization pause about what RIM will actually deliver for iOS and Android management.
RIM's own statements suggest that the support for iOS and Android device management will be subpar. It won't support push messaging, even though both platforms support it when connected to Exchange ActiveSync servers such as Microsoft Exchange, the latest versions of Lotus Notes and Novell GroupWise, and Google Apps for Business. The very technology RIM is acquiring from Ubitexx also supports push on iOS, notes Sepharim Group analyst Bob Egan.
RIM also said it won't support applications management or access to firewall-protected data on iOS and Android devices. Competing products already support both. Again, the Ubitexx technology supports application management on iOS -- so why not in RIM's planned version? Plus, the iOS- and Android-aware version of BES will be a Web-based product only, not something an emterprise can run on its own servers as it can the regular BES product.
It's clear that this promised management support for iOS and Android will be substandard at best, and RIM's BES management platform will stay a proprietary sysem for devices that are used less and less in business. This is the same strategy Microsoft has employed for years to hold back the Mac: promising support for Mac OS X but delivering limited, clunky products over and over again, with inferior capabilities and lots of gotchas. The idea of course is to make Mac users decide they want the better "real thing." Yet the opposite has occurred: Mac OS X sales have soared and Windows at best stays flat. Users are discovering they don't need Office, either.
Microsoft's strategy is about stacking the cards in its favor, but even with its huge market share and dependent enterprise customers, Microsoft hasn't succeeded with this approach. RIM is starting from a much worse position: Its sales are well below those of iOS and Android, and last year enterprises discovered they aren't dependent on RIM.
So why bother? That's the only conclusion to draw from RIM's latest grand plan. It should stop pretending it has any other strategy than to hope it will wake up one morning to discover the iPhone and Android phenomenon was just a bad dream. That storyline doesn't even work in soap operas, much less the real world.
This article, "The fat lady has sung: The end of BlackBerry," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Galen Gruman's Mobile Edge blog and follow the latest developments in mobile technology at InfoWorld.com. Follow Galen's mobile musings on Twitter at MobileGalen. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.