Enterprise BlackBerry 10 upgrade strategies include iOS, Android

BlackBerry enterprise customers watch the company's progress as they consider their plans for upgrading to BlackBerry 10.

BlackBerry users are cautiously optimistic as they begin their BlackBerry 10 upgrade strategies, but deployments hinge on what the company delivers in the year ahead.

There are a lot of companies at different stages of the thought process around whether they should migrate to BlackBerry 10 or not, said Nick McQuire, CEO of the Global Enterprise Mobility Alliance, a BlackBerry partner and mobile consultancy.

Ahead of BlackBerry's annual conference, being held next week in Orlando, there are several crucial factors that will help determine whether companies move from test to production on BB10, McQuire said.

Those factors include the reception end users give the two new devices -- the touchscreen-keyboard Z10 and the physical-keyboard Q10 -- and the quality of available apps. There's also the question of how seamless the migration from BES 7 to BES 10 is for IT and whether the management capabilities for iOS and Android are as good as the ones for BlackBerry's own devices.

Last year it was a different story. Instead of cautious optimism, many industry watchers wondered about BlackBerry's long-term prospects as it worked to release the more modern BlackBerry 10 platform, based on the QNX kernel, and to transition under the leadership of new CEO Thorsten Heins.

The belief was that many companies were more than willing to ditch their investments in BlackBerry infrastructure and devices in favor of a bring your own device (BYOD) strategy or standardizing around Apple's iOS. However, that might not be the case. "There's still a significant BlackBerry installed base, and we're beginning to help migrate lots of [multinational companies] with that strong dependency on BlackBerry devices to BES 10," mobile consultant McQuire said.

At least one former BlackBerry partner will be watching the subscriber base and BlackBerry 10 upgrade numbers very closely. Beginning in January 2011, YouMail Inc., a visual voicemail application developer based in Irvine, Calif., noticed that many of its registered BlackBerry users were migrating to iOS and Android. Its BlackBerry customer base cratered. As a result, YouMail stopped the development of its BlackBerry app last year.

The decision to pull the plug was a difficult one because YouMail's early partnership with BlackBerry in 2009 put the company on the map, said YouMail CEO Alex Quilici. Nearly one million of the company's approximately 2.5 million registered users came from that early partnership. "What we hope to get out of [BlackBerry Live and this year] is concrete data on how well sales of the Z10 are going and who is the audience that's buying them, so we can decide whether it's worth revisiting our earlier decision," he said.

As of now, YouMail has made an application programming interface available so other developers can build BlackBerry apps based on its platform, but it's hoping the new BB10 platform becomes a big enough hit to rekindle its partnership.

Users have been generally pleased with the new devices, particularly the BlackBerry Q10. Canadian Tire Corp., a retail organization based in Toronto, is moving ahead with its BlackBerry 10 deployment. It introduced the Z10 device two months ago and the Q10 within the last month to some 3,000 mobile users.

[BlackBerry Balance] has been a huge productivity kicker.

Eugene Roman, CTO
Canadian Tire

Power users have been able to get longer battery life on the new devices compared to the iPhone, said Eugene Roman, Canadian Tire's chief technology officer. In addition, the dual-persona feature, Balance, has benefitted employees and IT alike. "It's been a huge productivity kicker," Roman said.

However, the company won't standardize on BlackBerry because some employees prefer iOS.

Once the company's three-month transition onto BlackBerry Enterprise Service 10 is complete, it will have the management tools in place to continue supporting iOS devices and give employees the choice of which corporate device they want to use, Roman said.

Canadian Tire has no plans to move to a BYOD model because it believes adopting a corporate-owned, personally enabled deployment model offers greater benefits for IT and the end user."BB10 is a good option for that model," said Mark Vonk, a mobility consultant at Dahvo, a BlackBerry partner and professional services organization based in the Netherlands.

Many Dahvo customers have been testing the BlackBerry 10 upgrade in pilot programs for larger rollouts throughout the year, Vonk said. Dahvo helps organizations transition to the new platform. "We are still waiting for the official release of the Q10, though, as many BlackBerry users are waiting for a QWERTY model," he said. He anticipates the keyboard device will do really well with Dahvo's customers once it's generally available.

The Z10 first became available in the U.S. in March, and the Q10 is expected on four major U.S. carriers at the end of May at a suggested price of $249 plus contract, BlackBerry said. In late March, BlackBerry said, it shipped one million Z10s, selling about two-thirds of them to date.

BlackBerry has 76 million subscribers, and holds $2.9 billion in cash with no debt, according to its most recent quarterly earnings report.

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