The Enterprise Is Important. Let’s Get It Right.

BlackBerry z10 photo (BlackBerry)

One of the most striking features of much tech writing today is its near total ignorance about corporate software and systems. Except for sites like ComputerWorld and others that specialize in the enterprise, reporting is sparse and when it appears, often wrong.

This tendency has been glaringly revealed in a lot of the writing about the new BlackBerry and the BlackBerry 10 operating system. The heart of the blackBerry business has always been the enterprise and the company’s hopes for revival hinge on its ability to win back customers who have been drifting to other platforms or bring-your-own-device options. But consider this from TechCrunch:

In short, BB10 isn’t built for the way business is done today. When RIM was in its ascendance there weren’t many options for an IT guy. You could install Exchange, sendmail, or Lotus and wait for a crash. BES was a godsend. Now that’s no longer true. 99.9% uptime is the rule, not the exception, and there are hundreds of cloud service providers that can turn a single founder into a mobile powerhouse from the comfort of her phone – her iOS phone.

The writer, the usually solid John Biggs, doesn’t realize that BlackBerry Enterprise Server was never an alternative to Microsoft Exchange or Lotus Notes. It ran (or runs) on top of one of those platforms. BES may have been a godsend, but not for that reason. And major commercial mail platforms such as Exchange or Lotus Domino Mail have provided three nines of uptime for a very long time. and to the extent that I can understand that last sentence, there have been cloud providers for a very long time too, including those that offer hosted BES services.

BlackBerry is making a serious play to regain the corporate market, BlackBerry Enterprise Service 10, released last week, provides two new services: BlackBerry Balance, a software approach that partitions a BlackBerry 10 devices into separate  business and personal halves, and BlackBerry World for Work, a custom corporate app store. It also brings messaging and mobile device management support to Android and iOS devices, as well as BlackBerry 10s.

BlackBerry faces huge challenges and its success in the enterprise is far from assured. But if you want to analyze its chances, it helps to know how this stuff actually works.

Blackberry: The Charge Of The Light Brigade

images-40Yesterday RIM, now renamed Blackberry, introduced the Blackberry 10. Tech.Pinions columnist, Steve Wildstrom, is cheering for Blackberry as are many Tech.Pinion regular readers and millions upon millions of others. Does the new, re-invented, Blackberry stand a chance? Or is Blackberry merely metaphorically repeating the infamous charge of the Light Brigade? In order to answer that question, let’s look at some computing history.

The Personal Computer

In the late seventies and eighties, at the dawn of the age of personal computing, there were scores of different competing computers and computing operating systems. By the eighties, things had begun to shake out. One by one, computers like the TRS-80, Commodore 64, Apple II, Atari ST, Amiga and others took their final bows and left the stage forever. By 1995 the only two players left standing were computers powered by Windows and the Mac. And as many of you know, the Mac was barely standing.

From that day until this, no one has seriously challenged Windows’ leadership in personal computing. For almost three decades, Mac aficionados have insisted that theirs is the superior operating system. Did that help the Mac overcome Window’s dominance and secure the personal computing crown for itself? No it did not.

On February 19, 1996, in an interview with Fortune, Steve Jobs said:

“The PC wars are over. Done. Microsoft won a long time ago.”

He was right.



The MP3

In the self-same Fortune interview referred to above, Steve Jobs also said:

“If I were running Apple, I would milk the Macintosh for all it’s worth — and get busy on the next great thing.”

And that’s exactly what Steve Jobs did when he returned to Apple. Apple continues to milk the Mac to this day. And their next great thing was – the iPod.

In the late nineties, there were several companies competing to win the nascent MP3 wars. In 2001, Apple introduced the iPod, but it was really the one-two combination of the iPod and iTunes that eventually won the day. iTunes helped store, organize and deliver your music to your iPod and the it was the iPod – with its clean hardware, its easy to understand user interface and its easy to use click wheel – that helped you to easily find your music and play it.

“Do not renew an attack along the same line (or in the same form) after it has once failed.” ~ B.H. Liddel. Hart, Strategy

It’s important to understand two things here. First, the iPod was not a direct attack on Microsoft Windows. Far from it. In military terms, you don’t conduct a frontal assault against a well-entrenched enemy. In business terms, you don’t defeat the industry standard bearer just by being a little better — or even a lot better — at what you do. The Mac has been attacking Windows since 1984 and it still has only 5% to 10% market share to show for its efforts. (True, the Mac’s consolation prize is that it may garner as much as 35% of the sector’s profits, but that still does not make the Mac anywhere near the industry standard.)

Second, Apple did not win the MP3 wars simply by being better than the existing players from Sony, Archos and others. With the iPod/iTunes combo, Apple leap-frogged the existing market and created a whole new category of device. It was the synchronization of iTunes with the iPod that was its killer feature. And despite all the criticism that iTunes deservedly receives, no other competitor has come close to duplicating its functionality. In military terms, Apple created a whole new front. In business terms, Apple created a whole new category. And once Apple established itself as the standard for the new MP3 category, they never let go their grip. To this day, Apple dominates the MP3 market with over 70% market share and gawd-knows-how-much profit share.

Sony, Archos and others tried to unseat the iPod by providing cheaper devices with more features. Didn’t happen.

Microsoft came late to the MP3 game but they came with what they, and most industry observers, thought was the winning strategy. With PlaysForSure, Microsoft intended to duplicate, in MP3’s, the same success that they were enjoying in personal computing. Microsoft would create the operating system, license it to manufacturers and then watch as their open licensing system inevitably overwhelmed Apple’s closed operating system. Didn’t happen.

After a while, Microsoft tired of not gaining any market share (or any profits), threw their PlaysForSure partners under the bus, and created the Zune. (Kind of reminds me of how Microsoft is handling the Surface. But I digress.) It’s hard to remember now, but most industry observers predicted that the Zune was the beginning of the end for Apple and the iPod. At that time, Apple was a mere upstart and Microsoft was the 900 pound gorilla that everyone feared. What Microsoft wanted, Microsoft took. With the weight of Microsoft behind the Zune, how could it fail to become the industry standard? Didn’t happen.


The Smartphone

“Do not throw your weight into a stroke whilst your opponent is on guard.” ~ B.H. Liddel. Hart, Strategy

In 2006, Smartphones were ruled by the Palm, Windows, RIM and Nokia. In 2007, Apple introduced the iPhone. By 2013, Palm was gone, Windows Mobile was gone, Nokia was a niche player, dependent upon Microsoft’s new mobile operating system, and RIM was making a bold gamble to regain relevance. What’s important to understand is that Apple’s iPhone was not, as many thought, a more expensive smartphone. Rather, it was an inexpensive pocket computer. Apple did not really make a better smartphone. Instead, they opened a new front, created a whole new category of device, and then dominated that category. Google did an excellent job of fast following with Android and now, between them, Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android sell more than 90% of all smartphones.

Within a year after the introduction of the iPhone, Palm tried to reinvent themselves, but they lacked the resources to make it happen. Windows Mobile re-invented itself into Windows Phone 7, and again into Windows phone 8, and what has that gotten Microsoft? Perhaps 3% market share? Microsoft has all the resources in the world. They have tremendous business connections. They’re patient and persistent. And their Windows Phone operating system is well-respected. Yet they can’t seem to gain any traction in the phone market. If Microsoft, with all its advantages and with a four year head start, can’t gain any traction in the smartphone markets, then what realistic chance does Blackberry have?


The Tablet

“Exploit the line of least resistance – so long as it can lead you to any objective which old contribute to your underlying object.” ~ B.H. Liddell Hart, Strategy

In 2001, Bill Gates was touting the advantages of the tablet. Yet in 2010, it took Apple only 7 months to sell more tablets than Microsoft had been able to sell in the previous 10 years. Did Apple do this by simply making a better tablet? No. Apple re-invented the tablet market by adding instant-on, longer battery life and a capacitive touch screen. But most of all, Apple re-invented the tablet by creating a wholly new touch user interface. Apple didn’t improve on the existing Microsoft tablets. They created a new category of device with a wholly new operating system.

By 1995, Microsoft’s Windows dominated personal computing, never to be challenged again. Neither Apple nor any other contender ever did or ever will unseat Windows from its dominant position. Instead, Apple created a new market and dominated it. By attacking Microsoft where it was weakest, Apple did in 7 months in tablets what it could not do in 20 years in personal computers.



Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death

~ Alfred, Lord Tennyson, The Charge of the Light Brigade

Do I hate Blackberry or wish them ill? Absolutely not. I have tremendous respect for what they’ve done. The original Blackberry phones were category busters and a wonder to behold. But the truth is, it does not matter if the Blackberry 10 hardware and software are narrowly better than the iPhone or Android phones. They have to be so superior that customers will be willing to switch. Because remaining the number four, or even the number three, smartphone OS is not going to cut it with developers. And people don’t switch platforms unless the alternative is not just superior but FAR superior to their current platform. Just ask the Mac, the Zune, and Windows Phone 7.

If you want to argue that a fast follower can overtake a first mover, I will agree. If you want to argue that the Blackberry 10 – introduced over 6 years after the iPhone was introduced – is a fast follower, I will respectfully disagree.

In war, you don’t win a frontal assault unless you have overwhelming military superiority. The art of war is, in part, about how to avoid making frontal assaults. In business, you don’t win a war against an establised standard unless you have overwhelming product superiority. The art of business is, in part, about differentiating your product and advancing your strengths against your competitor’s weaknesses.

Blackberry is not creating a new front or a new category. They’re attacking the existing leaders where they are entrenched and strongest. Does anyone honestly think that the Blackberry 10 is so superior to the iPhone, Android phones and Windows Phone 8 that it will overwhelm any of them? If not, the Blackberry 10 is the charge of the Light Brigade all over again…with similar results, but lacking the poetry.

The Shape of 2013: Predictions for the Year Ahead

Crystal ball graphic
After 15 years of making predictions, with a track record that would have made you rich if you’d bet on them, I’ve been away from the practice for a couple of years. But as the regulars at Tech.pinions have agreed to end the year with a set of predictions each, I’m back at the game. My best guesses for 2013:

A Modest Rebound for BlackBerry. Like many others, I was prepared to write off BlackBerry during the last year as its market share cratered. And if Windows Phone 8 had really taken off or if Android had made a serious play for the enterprise, it would be very hard to see where there might be room in the market for Research In Motion, no matter how promising BlackBerry 10 looks. But I think there is room for at least three players in the business, and right now the competition for #3 is still wide-open. BlackBerry still enjoys a lot of residual support in the enterprise IT community, and some key federal agencies that had been planning to move away from the platform, such as Homeland Security’s Immigration & Customs Enforcement, have indicated they are open to a second look. The challenge Research In Motion faces is that BlackBerry 10, which will be leased on Jan. 30, needs to be appealing enough to users, not just IT managers, that it can at least slow the tide of bring-you-own devices into the enterprise.

A Windows Overhaul, Sooner Rather Than Later. Even before Windows 8 launched to distinctly mixed reviews, there were rumors about that Microsoft was moving toward a more Apple-like scheme of more frequent, less sweeping OS revisions. Microsoft sometimes has a tendency to become doctrinaire in the defense of its products; for example, it took many months for officials to accept that User Access Control in Vista was an awful mess that drove users crazy. But Microsoft has had some lessons in humility lately and the company knows that it is in a fight that will determine its relevance to personal computing over the next few years. I expect that, at a minimum, Windows 8.1 (whatever it is really called) will give users of conventional PCs the ability to boot directly into Desktop mode, less need to ever used the Metro interface, and the return of some version of the Start button. On the new UI side, for both Windows 8 and RT, look for a considerable expansion of Metrofied control panels and administrative tools, lessening the need to work in Desktop. In other words, Microsoft will move closer to what it should have done in the first place: Offer different UIs for different kinds of uses. The real prize, truly touch-ready versions of Office, though, are probably at least a year and a half away.

Success for touch notebooks. When Windows 8 was first unveiled, I was extremely dubious about the prospects for touch-enable conventional laptops. The ergonomics seemed all wrong. And certainly the few touchscreen laptops that ran Windows 7 weren’t every good. Maybe its my own experience using an iPad with a keyboard,  but the keyboard-and-touch combination no longer seems anywhere near as weird as it once did. And OEMs such as Lenovo, Dell, HP, and Acer are coming up with some very nice touch laptops, both conventional and hybrid. Even with a premium of $150 to $200 over similarly equipped non-touch models, I expect the touch products to pick up some significant market share.

Significant wireless service improvements. We’ll all grow old waiting for the government’s efforts to free more spectrum for wireless data to break fruit. The incentive auctions of underused TV spectrum are not going to be held until 2014, and it will be some time before that spectrum actually becomes available. The same is true for a new FCC plan to allow sharing of government-held spectrum in the 3.5 GHz band. But the good news is we don’t have to wait. Technology will allow significant expansion of both the capacity and coverage of existing spectrum. Probably the two most important technologies are Wi-Fi offload, which will allow carrier traffic to move over hotspots set up in high-traffic areas, and femtocells and small cells, which can greatly increase the reuse of of the spectrum we already have. Unlicensed white space–unused free space between TV channels–should begin to make a contribution, especially in rural areas where TV channels are more sparse. And the huge block of mostly idle spectrum the Sprint is acquiring with its proposed purchase of Clearwire will also ease the congestion, probably starting next year. (Stay tuned for a Tech.pinions series on spectrum issues in January.)

Intel Will Make a Major ARM Play. It’s hard to believe today, but Intel was once a major player in the ARM chip business. In 1997, it bought the StrongARM business from a foundering Digital Equipment. Renamed XScale, the Intel ARM chips enjoyed considerable success with numerous design wins as early smartphone applications processors. But XScale was always tiny compared to Intel’s x86 business and in 2006, Intel sold its XScale operations to Marvell. A year later, Apple introduced the ARM-based iPhone. Today, ARM-based tablets are in the ascendancy, x86-based PCs are in decline, and Intel is struggling to convince the world that a new generation of very low power Atom systems-on-chips are competitive. Maybe the Clover Trail SOCs and their successors  will gain a significant share of the mobile market, but Intel can’t afford to wait very long to find out. With its deep engineering and manufacturing skills, Intel could become a major ARM player quickly, either through acquisition or internal development.

PlayBook 2.0: Is This the Best RIM Can Do?

UPDATE: On about the 10th try, I finally got both the personal hosted and corporate Exchange accounts working. I have no idea why the setup failed repeatedly and an identically setup eventually worked. I’m hoping for some explanation from RIM.


If any evidence is still needed that one-time leader Research In Motion has become hopelessly uncompetitive in the mobile computing market, there’s no need to look any further than the BlackBerry PlayBook 2.0 software. Its flaws are not only enough to leep it from gaining traction in the tablet market, but  bode very ill for the next generation of BlackBerry handsets based on the BlackBerry 10 operating system.

PlayBook screen shotThe relatively few folks who bought the PlayBook have been waiting patiently for nearly a year for a software update that would make the 7″ tablet usable. The version 2.0 software takes them about halfway there, not remotely good enough in a world where Adroid tablets are steadily improving and Apple is readying a new version of the iPad that will doubtless increase its already huge lead over the competition.

The most surprising thing is RIM’s failure to get messaging even close to right. The PlayBook has finally gotten a native mail app, meaning it now longer must be connected to a BlackBerry handset through the Bridge app. The trouble is that the mail app isn’t very good.

PlayBook mail does not work with RIM’s BlackBerry Enterprise Server for corporate mail, contacts, and calendar. For that, you still need to use Bridge. In theory, it can connect to Microsoft Exchange accounts and I know who users who have done so. But I ran into repeated failure connecting the PlayBook to either a corporate Exchange account or a personal hosted Exchange account (picture), both accounts that I have set up on iPhones with no difficulty.

The standard internet mail is also sorely deficient. I was able to set up an IMAP mail account without trouble, but the PlayBook app displays only my inbox, not any of my folders. There is a separate Gmail app. but it turns out to be nothing more than a link to web Gmail.

BlackBerry Messenger, another signature RIM product,can also be used only with Bridge, although RIM promises that a native client will be available eventually. The PlayBook mail app can be set up to include Facebook mail and Twitter direct messages. But there is still no proper Twitter app for the tablet. That tantalizing Twitter icon on the home screen again proves just to be a browser link.

This is sorely disappointing, because the the PlayBook is an attractive piece of hardware, especially at the $199 (for the 16 MB version) fire sale price. It has an excellent user interface, reminiscent in some ways of the lamented Palm webOS, and excellent display, and good battery life.

The lack of third-party apps is a serious problem, but the real issue is RIM’s failure to deliver proper messaging. From its beginnings, BlackBerry has meant messaging and this remains its fundamental selling proposition. Without world-class mail or BlackBerry Messenger, the PlayBook simply has no competitive advantages and many  drawbacks.

Worse is what appears to be the reason for PlayBook communications deficiencies. BlackBerry Messenger and BlackBerry Enterprise Server were designed to work with the peculiar software environment of the Java-based BlackBerry OS. RIM has never successfully ported these services to other OSes and it looks like they are having no success bringing it QNX, the RIM-owned OS at the heart of both the PlayBook and BlackBerry 10. That leaves the BlackBerry reliant on Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync for enterprise mail. Even disregarding my unfortunate experience, Exchange ActiveSync is something Apple  already does really well, though Android still needs either OEM modifications or third-party software to handle it. If this is the best RIM can do nearly a year after the original release of the PlayBook, I’m afraid they have run out of time.