Will Banks Take to BlackBerry 10?

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Remember when BlackBerrys were trendy and businesspeople confessed to being CrackBerry addicts? Those days are long gone. One estimate, from Kantar Worldpanel ComTech, puts BlackBerry's market share at 1.6% of U.S. smartphone adoption.

The BlackBerry is still favored by large companies such as banks, which tend to like the management software. For instance, it lets them remotely wipe out a device that has been lost or stolen. Concurrent with Wednesday's unveiling of a new line of touch-screen BlackBerry 10 devices, several enterprise software companies have promised to create apps for the devices, including Cisco (for collaboration technology), SAP (for finance apps), Box (for file sharing), Bloomberg (for news and market information) and The Wall Street Journal (for digital content).

Jacob Jegher, senior analyst at Celent, says "there are die-hard BlackBerry fans," and "I can see them" trying out the BlackBerry 10. "But it's hard to see people switching from iPhone or Android to BlackBerry."

(Research in Motion, which makes the BlackBerry, also announced Wednesday that on Feb. 4 it will be renamed BlackBerry and its ticker symbol on U.S. exchanges will be BBRY. It also said it has hired singer/songwriter Alicia Keys to be its global creative director.)

A feature of the new line and underlying QNX operating system is BlackBerry Balance, which lets IT departments separate work data and content from personal information. They can exert controls and security on the one while offering employees a level of freedom and privacy on the other. This could help employees who carry around multiple devices for personal and business use pare down to one.

"QNX is generally regarded as an efficient, well-constructed operating system, and we expect that its performance will be solid and stable at release," says Neff Hudson, assistant vice president of emerging channels at USAA. "Its ability to offer separate profiles for work and personal use — and its ability to run applications concurrently under both profiles — is especially interesting."

USAA plans to procure a couple of devices and test the BlackBerry 10's compatibility with its mobile browser, mobile.usaa.com. "We are not planning on doing any native testing, and we are not developing a native app at this time," Hudson says.

The new version of BlackBerry enterprise server supports non-BlackBerry devices, including Android and iPhone devices. This could be a solution to issues around the practice of BYOD (bring your own device). BYOD employees insist on using their favorite mobile devices for work purposes, and companies find management of the disparate devices a chore. On the other hand, adoption of the new mixed-use server software "could wreak havoc for RIM. Employees now have a choice" of device even at companies committed to RIM's enterprise server, Jegher says.

USAA is in the process of rolling out a BYOD policy so that employees can use the same device for home and work. But "given BlackBerry's well-documented difficulties during the last three years, we have no immediate plans to include BlackBerry on the list of devices with native support," Hudson says. "That said, if our employees demonstrate a strong interest in BlackBerry 10, we will move quickly to accommodate them."

As far as creating mobile banking apps for the new line of devices, like most financial institutions, USAA will be driven by its customers' preferences. "Ultimately, our members will decide if we support BlackBerry 10," Hudson says. "We were one of the first banks to field a BlackBerry app, but our members voted with their pocketbooks by migrating to iOS and Android apps, which now account for 92% of all our traffic. We are serving the other 8% with mobile.usaa.com, an HTML5-compliant site that offers all of USAA's core capabilities."

Jegher points out that the new BlackBerry 10 is "yet another device with another screen resolution and size. There's an increasing number of devices running with different resolutions - phones, tablets, etc., and it's almost impossible for a financial institution to manage the capabilities of banking services across all devices."

Many of the banks and vendors we speak with (including, today, Scivantage with its new line of mobile trading apps) are turning toward HTML5 and responsive design techniques, which allow for the creation of one set of pages that can be viewed across many devices.

Hudson says USAA is eager to see if a third operating system could gain traction in the marketplace, after Apple's iOS and Google's Android. "The two likeliest contenders are Windows Phone 8 and BlackBerry 10," he says. As soon as either reaches 1% adoption, USAA will evaluate how to port existing banking capabilities to the platform and deploy a native app.

"BlackBerry faces the daunting but not impossible task of fighting its way back into the consumer market," Hudson says. "As the last five years have demonstrated, this is a very dynamic industry, and leaders can rapidly become laggards."

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