Security Still Sells Businesses on BlackBerry

The company:

Research In Motion

Headquarters: Waterloo, Ontario

Employees: 14,000

2010 Revenue: $15 billion

CEOs: Jim Balsillie, co-CEO, and Mike Lazaridis, president and co-CEO

What They Do: RIM makes BlackBerry smartphones and will soon release a tablet. It also offers the BlackBerry Enterprise Server, which routes e-mail securely through RIM's network operations centers.

The Pitch

Research In Motion (RIM) developed its PlayBook tablet, due out this quarter, after CIOs requested a device with the security, battery life and manageability of a BlackBerry smartphone in a larger form factor, says Jeff McDowell, the company's senior vice president of platform and business product marketing.

RIM decided to build a tablet after "kludgy" attempts to pair a BlackBerry with a notebook. McDowell expects the PlayBook to replace laptops, especially for such workers as field service technicians.

The PlayBook will run software from QNX Software Systems, a company that RIM purchased in 2010. That same software, which allows RIM to build dual-core devices, will also be used in future BlackBerry phones. Along with a continued focus on adding consumer features to the phones, the new software will keep RIM competitive, McDowell says, even as enterprises start using iPhone and Android devices.

The Catch

RIM faces stiff competition in the tablet market from Apple's iPad, as well as Android tablets. Deutsche Bank analyst Jonathan Goldberg expects around 80 tablets to be on the market by March.

How the PlayBook fares may depend on how CIOs view the security capabilities of various tablets. Jamie Townsend, managing partner at TownHall Research, writes that the PlayBook isn't much different from the alternatives. He notes that investment bankers at JP Morgan, who presumably require tough security, have iPads. But Gregg Davis, CIO with Webcor Builders, plans to offer PlayBooks to some of Webcor's workers and points out RIM's many security features. "We don't have a lot of those tools on the other tablet devices."

Nevertheless, Google and Microsoft are bulking up the security capabilities in the Android and Windows Phone 7 operating systems. And smartphone competition is starting to increase. From July through October last year, RIM's share of the U.S. smartphone market dropped 9 percent; many forecasters expect that slide to continue.

Deutsche Bank's Goldberg wrote in a recent report that enough companies are letting employees access e-mail on iPhones and Android phones "to begin to question RIM's hold over its core constituency."

McDowell says RIM will continue its effort to capitalize on the IT consumerization trend, which has workers bringing their own phones and asking IT to support them. "We won't take the foot off the gas there," McDowell says. As it adds more features to its platform, RIM hopes that consumers will drive more demand for BlackBerrys at the office.

The Score

Android and Apple devices may be gaining, but RIM's existing reputation for security gives it an edge among IT leaders, analysts say. When it comes to the PlayBook, CIOs may find other advantages, too, including support for technologies such as Adobe Flash and Air that they may already use but which the iPad, for example, doesn't directly support.

"BlackBerry is going to lose some market share," say Kitty Weldon, an analyst with Current Analysis. "But they're still thought of as the premium solution when it comes to security and management, and they really still are. I don't think RIM will lose all of its momentum."

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At a Glance
  • RIM's BlackBerry PlayBook looks promising, but the operating system's rough patches and a lack of app selection are reasons to think twice. Read the full review

    Pros

    • Sharp display has vivid, accurate colors
    • High-definition video playback impresses
    • Light weight makes this conducive to hold in hand

    Cons

    • Initial software is buggy and lacks polish
    • No integrated e-mail, contacts, or calendaring
    • Awkwardly designed onscreen keyboard
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