BlackBerry customers' loyalty hinges on BES 10 multi-OS support

BlackBerry Enterprise Service 10 will manage iOS and Android devices, but that might not be enough to convince BlackBerry customers to stay loyal.

NEW YORK -- The multi-operating system support in BES 10 brings a flicker of hope to BlackBerry customers, but many are still disappointed with the company's slim app store and lack of competitive features.

BlackBerry changed its name from Research in Motion in January, when it launched the BlackBerry 10 (BB10) OS, two new phones and BlackBerry Enterprise Service (BES) 10 for mobile device management. Despite this attempted rebirth, IT administrators at the BlackBerry Experience Forum here this week said the company is just too late to the game.

We have definitely tested your patience.

Richard Piasentin, BlackBerry vice president

BlackBerry's Web browser hasn't been on par with other devices, the hardware has been too slow, and it was difficult to move between apps, said Jason Floyd, chief technology officer at Dallas-based Source Inc. His company moved off BlackBerry a few years ago and now consists of 80% Android and 20% iOS users.

"There's not a single thing BlackBerry can do that I can't do already on my Android," Floyd said. "The [BB10] camera is the most interesting, revolutionary thing. Everything else you could get in another product."

BlackBerry has struggled recently in part because its product timeline has been slower than those of Apple, Inc. and Google Inc. Plus, customers said the BlackBerry World app store piggybacks off apps that have long been available from those competitors. BlackBerry touts 70,000 apps, but a lot of them aren't the "fun" apps such as Netflix that users really want, said one mobile engineer from a large banking organization.

"[BlackBerry was] the top notch for a couple of years, and they just stopped innovating," he said. "They need apps that sell, or no one is going to buy."

Customers also said BlackBerry has been too focused on the secure email server side and too tied to hardware over the past few years. Company execs acknowledged their missteps.

"We have definitely tested your patience," BlackBerry vice president Richard Piasentin said in the forum's keynote. "If it weren’t for the loyalty of you, we wouldn’t still be here today."

BES 10 entices BlackBerry customers

BES 10, which for the first time manages iOS and Android devices, could be the reward loyal customers have been waiting for. Some said the new version is a reason to keep supporting BlackBerry in the enterprise.

The management console interface is very similar to BES 5, making it easy for admins to pick up, and migrating to BES 10 doesn't require any interaction from the user. Tom Cheng, a systems engineer for a financial services company, currently uses BES 5 and Good Technology for mobile device management (MDM) but wants to replace both with BES 10.

"The control piece in BES 10 is the biggest thing," Cheng said. "It's saying, 'Hey, it's ok if you have an iPhone.'"

Juan Perez, an IT systems administrator at Atos, said his company has considered Good for MDM but could move to BES 10 because of the multi-OS support. Investigating BES 10 at the forum was his last-ditch effort to convince the business to stay with BlackBerry.

"They're really close to abandoning ship," Parez said.

Still, some customers have already left Blackberry because of the cost and complexity of BES, Source Inc.'s Floyd added. Unlike other MDM products, BES 4 and 5 required an Exchange server to run, which added cost and was just one more thing for IT to manage, he said.

For others, the move to BES 10 is inevitable.

Mobile engineers from the large banking organization, which has about 40,000 company-owned BlackBerry users, said their company's tight security regulations prevent them from providing anything other than BlackBerry. If they distributed iPhones, for instance, IT would have to remove all the "good stuff" that people buy an iPhone for, such as iTunes, one admin said.

"BlackBerry 10 is unavoidable for us as long as we're supporting BlackBerry devices," he said. However, "if they had a choice, our employees would probably choose an iPhone."

Some BB10 features intrigue, others disappoint

A lot of features introduced in BB10 -- auto-complete texting, video chatting and new photo editing options -- are capabilities the iPhone and other devices have had for years. Still, some IT admins said they liked the ability to install apps remotely and a feature that lets users share data and pictures by touching phones.

Perez and other customers said the best new feature is Balance, which provides secure containers -- called Spaces -- that separate work and personal assets. IT can ensure security by pushing corporate apps only to the Workspace on users' devices, and it's easy for users to set up their corporate email; IT simply sends them a one-time activation password.

If BlackBerry stays competitive with upcoming versions and facilitates bring your own device (BYOD), customers said they will be more likely to stay with the company.

"It's a consumer market now," Floyd said. "If BlackBerry can make a BYOD play, it will grow."

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