RIM is working with its developer community to create a new generation of enterprise-specific apps for its upcoming BlackBerry 10 platform as the beleaguered smartphone maker looks to push rivals Apple and Google out of its bread-and-butter enterprise market.
RIM in New York this week is wrapping up its BlackBerry Jam world tour, enterprise edition, a road show intended to help its enterprise developer community prepare and write business-specific applications for BlackBerry 10, its new mobile software set to launch Jan. 30.
BlackBerry 10 represents an overhaul of RIM's platform, ushering in a new user interface and a bevy of new devices that will support it. The company is hanging high hopes on the new platform, looking to the launch to help facilitate a rebound of RIM's fortunes.
A former leader in the smartphone market, RIM has ceded much of its market share to rivals Apple and Google over the past few years, particularly with the rise of trends like the consumerisation of IT.
According to Gartner, RIM's BlackBerry platform in the third quarter accounted for 5.3 percent of the worldwide smartphone market, a number that pales in comparison to the 72.4 percent held by Google's Android and the 13.9 percent held by Apple's iOS.
The show, which hit 11 different cities and is basically an enterprise-focused version of RIM's broader BlackBerry Jam World Tour event, was launched to address the unique needs of application developers targeting the enterprise.
"Our enterprise developers have a very specific set of needs that they need assistance with, and us having these events -- it's been overwhelmingly positive," Gregg Ostrowski, senior director of enterprise developer partnerships at RIM, told CRN.
"The attendees are just thrilled that RIM is focusing on what the enterprise developer needs, versus the guy who is building games and social networking stuff, and things that are for public consumption."
Part of this unique learning curve stems from the fact that many enterprise app developers weren't necessarily hired to build solutions for mobile devices. They were likely hired, instead, to work on back-end server applications, he said.
But because of the proliferation of smartphones and tablets in the business world over the past few years, developing apps for mobile platforms has become a must-have skill, and RIM said it's helping developers make that transition through one-on-one and hands-on sessions at its BlackBerry World Tour.
Another aim of the event was to help enterprise developers start porting existing applications from prior BlackBerry platforms, such as BlackBerry 7, over to the new BlackBerry 10 platform. RIM's Ostrowski said the company is enabling its developers to do this with WebWorks, a development tool that leverages HTML 5 and lets developers write an application once and deploy it to BlackBerry 10, earlier BlackBerry platforms and even BlackBerry PlayBook, RIM's tablet-specific OS.
"The idea is that you can write your application, compile it with our WebWorks tool, and then it runs and acts as if it's a native application on any [BlackBerry] device," Ostrowski said.
Some of the most popular enterprise apps that run on BlackBerry platforms today are workflow-related, such as travel and expense approval applications, along with those tied to field services management, Ostrowski said.
Brandt said it was "too early to tell" how many of his existing BlackBerry customers will transition to BlackBerry 10 in January, but that customer requests have been steadily trickling in. "Even in just the last couple of months, there's been really high interest," Brandt said.
Keep work and play separate
In addition to building a robust ecosystem of enterprise apps for the BlackBerry 10 launch next month, RIM is also targeting its bread-and-butter enterprise market through BlackBerry Balance, a new feature that allows users to host personal information separately from corporate information on their BlackBerry devices.
The solution is targeted specifically at BYOD environments because it lets IT teams monitor a user's corporate data without having to touch their personal files. It also allows administrators to wipe corporate information from a user's BlackBerry if the device is lost or stolen while keeping their personal data intact.
RIM's Ostrowski explained that the company is also rolling out an enterprise-specific version of its BlackBerry App World storefront, called BlackBerry World for Work, so enterprise developers have a dedicated space to push out and manage authorised apps. Users can log into the storefront while in their work profile in BlackBerry Balance to see which applications have been approved for their use.
"By giving [users] the common user interface of BlackBerry World for Work, they now have an app that runs on their devices and can see all the enterprise applications that have either been pushed down to their device, or they can go through and download whichever ones are optional."
Ostrowski said he's confident RIM's enterprise developer community, coupled with the new BlackBerry Balance feature, will make BlackBerry 10 the de facto mobile platform for businesses.
"The legacy of BlackBerry, it's always been focused on the enterprise from day one. When we went down the path of developer relations and developer events, a lot of that started out focused on consumers because of the trends of the market," Ostrowski told CRN.
"Now we are shifting back and doing a parallel approach where we need ... to focus on the consumer applications to make our devices more desirable, yet, on my side, we need to make sure the enterprise is taken care of, as well."