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."