BlackBerry slipped when it forced businesses to buy its mobile device management (MDM) platform to fully support BlackBerry 10 devices, according to AirWatch CEO John Marshall.
“It’s one foot on the banana peel, one foot in the grave,” Marshall told Computerworld Australia this week at the AirWatch Connect conference in Melbourne.
BlackBerry’s latest version of its mobile management software, BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) 10, supports Apple and Android devices. However, the company has not allowed multiple-OS MDMs like AirWatch to support BlackBerry devices—a move that has essentially forced businesses to buy BES if they want to securely support BlackBerry.
“By not opening up the APIs a year and a half ago with [BlackBerry] OS 10, it was the beginning of the end,” he said. “That was such a strategic blunder. If they had opened up the APIs and not had the arrogance [to say] that everyone would have to use their management system, then a lot of companies would have said, ‘OK, I’ll support that one as well.’”
Many businesses have made investments in AirWatch or another MDM system that supports multiple devices and don’t want to switch back to the BlackBerry system, Marshall said. “The fact that they didn’t open the APIs actually has accelerated their demise.”
In addition, BlackBerry lacks the extensive app ecosystem that its rivals have, Marshall said.
“They’re struggling because they don’t know what they want to be,” he said. BlackBerry could do well if it focused exclusively on one thing: operating system, hardware or software, he said.
A BlackBerry official responded that MDM is a key part of its business and the company has adapted well to the market.
“We continue to evolve with the changing demands of the industry and recently introduced Secure Work Space for iOS and Android to support the introduction of BYOD across many businesses,” said BlackBerry senior vice-president, Scott Totzke. He added that more than 19,000 BES 10 commercial and test servers have been installed globally.
While Marshall said BlackBerry has stumbled, he said Apple is showing more focus on enterprise with iOS7 than it has in the past.
“Apple did a fantastic job this time around with documentation,” he said. A beta program for enterprise this time around was another major step, he said. “You could always get their betas, but this was actually a true iOS 7 enterprise beta program.”
AirWatch supports all mobile operating systems, and Marshall said this is a competitive advantage for the MDM company. He said AirWatch does not prioritise support for one OS over another because the popularity of each one varies market to market. “We have to tackle them all.”
Supporting every device is most complicated in the Android ecosystem because “every different OEM has APIs,” Marshall said. Each manufacturer has a different flavour of Android, not all devices are updated to the same OS version and often, Android operates differently depending on the carrier, he said.
Supporting iOS 7 has been an arduous process for AirWatch because Apple has added a great number of new features, policies, and restrictions related to apps, he said.
“Second, Apple is really doing everything to really ensure privacy and that involves no longer supporting even passing a MAC address or some of the traditional identifiers back and forth. So we’ve had to essentially rearchitect so we are communicating and understanding the device relationship to the console.”
“That’s taken a lot of work, and we have to do that without orphaning millions of devices that are out there already, so it’s been a slow step process to get there.”
AirWatch plans to support the open-source Tizen OS, said Marshall said. It will also support Amazon's Kindle-branded tablets and Barnes & Noble Nook devices for the education market, he said. Marshall said he didn’t know if the company will support Mozilla’s Firefox OS.
Analysts at the AirWatch conference from IDC and Frost & Sullivan said organisations must prepare to support several operating systems in their workplace if they are not doing so already.
“We’re going to be dealing with multiple OSes, multiple devices and location independence,” said IDC analyst Dustin Kehoe.
“Clearly, it’s going to be a heterogeneous environment in terms of OS,” said Frost & Sullivan analyst Audrey William.
A Frost & Sullivan survey of OS preferences among Australian CIOs and IT managers showed a close race among iOS, Android and Windows, she said. Apple had 41 per cent of the vote, followed by Google with 32 per cent and Microsoft with 21 per cent. BlackBerry came in last with only 6 per cent.
Adam Bender travelled to Melbourne as a guest of AirWatch.
Follow Adam Bender on Twitter: @WatchAdam