The BlackBerry smart device has enjoyed tremendous success in recent months by targeting fashionable corporate consumers keen to be seen with the latest in mobile gadgetry. However, in the longer term, its manufacturer Research in Motion faces the stiff challenge of making BlackBerry an essential piece of enterprise IT hardware.
Research In Motion and its BlackBerry devices are possibly the most recognizable face of corporate data mobility outside of the near-ubiquitous notebook PC. The combination of tightly knit components – handheld devices, secure connectivity, push-email server – and minimal deployment effort have made BlackBerry as much a favorite with IT departments as the system’s ease of use and practicality have with end users.
After a relatively slow start to the noughties, as it sought to extend its range beyond the pager networks of North America to the mobile operator networks of the world, RIM’s momentum of late has been unstoppable. Sales have soared as word of mouth, BlackBerry-envy among style-conscious professionals (particularly in legal and financial services), and the productivity benefits of email on the move have become more widely recognized.
The odd celebrity endorsement of the product cannot have hurt, either. Madonna has recently been photographed with a BlackBerry, while rock wild-men The Darkness seemingly prefer to spend their time emailing than smashing up hotel rooms.
At the last official count, BlackBerry sales had grown fourfold in less than year, reaching about half a million in the second quarter 2004, according to market estimates. A crop of three million by year-end does not appear out of the question. Consequent revenue growth has been startling for a company in the enterprise mobile space. RIM’s last reported quarter, to May 29, 2004, showed sales spiral 158% year on year to $269.6 million.
The result? The investment community now holds RIM up as its poster child of the post-desktop computer age. But away from mobile’s miracle on Wall Street, not everything looks sweet for RIM. ComputerWire has already seen cases, and spoken with IT directors for whom BlackBerry, despite its generally good reception among end users and IT professionals alike, is already outliving its usefulness.
Conversations reveal that it not the BlackBerry devices themselves that are giving cause for concern (although it has been remarked that they are looking somewhat underpowered and proprietary in among the recent crop of smart devices). Rather it is RIM’s pioneering server infrastructure and go-to-market strategy that could prove to be the company’s downfall in the longer term, as IT directors and organizations become more savvy to the requirements and possibilities of handheld mobile computing, and RIM’s rivals turn up the pressure.
RIM, to its credit, has made concerted efforts to extend the appeal of BlackBerry by licensing its connectivity software to the great and the good of the mobile device and mobile operating systems community, and this strategy is now beginning to bear fruit with third-party devices that can access RIM services now coming to market.
But despite RIM’s BlackBerry Mobile Data Service facility enabling BlackBerry-capable devices access other corporate applications, this browser-based, thin-client system does not represent the single mobile application infrastructure that more advanced enterprises now seem to be demanding.
Nor does RIM seemingly have the enterprise ISV credentials required by large companies to pull this off, selling through mobile operators (themselves considered unproven as suppliers of enterprise IT) rather than forging close, direct links with customers.
RIM’s days of making hay are far from over yet; there are no doubt several more bumper crops to harvest, and the company could continue to make a decent living from small businesses. But unless RIM moves to counter the evolving demands of its growing enterprise subscriber base, its loyalty to the company could soon be tested.