Research In Motion (RIM) continues to struggle as it works to finish the BlackBerry 10 operating system, but the audience at the London edition of the BlackBerry 10 Jam World Tour developer event still thinks the company can play an important role in the enterprise.
The arrival of the first smartphones based on BlackBerry 10 in the first quarter next year will be critical to RIM's future, and it needs to deliver both an OS and hardware that can compete with the latest iPhone and Android-based devices.
One of RIM's main differentiators in the enterprise is the multitude of management policies it offers administrators. Here the company is still unrivaled, according to Chris Pearson, administrator at Santander.
"I haven't seen anyone else come close to the granularity RIM offers," he said.
But that RIM has the best management support in the smartphone industry is nothing new, and to remain relevant it also has to improve the usability of its products.
Two features that impressed the audience at the Jam event in London were Balance and the ability to push content to the universal inbox. Balance allows users to have a personal and a work partition on their phones, and the separation of the two is done right down to the file system, as opposed to something that has been implemented on top of the OS.
"When a person leaves, the company can issue a kill packet and all the corporate data and all the corporate applications are wiped off the device. You can also block copy and pasting from personal into corporate or corporate into personal," said Gregg Ostrowski, senior director, enterprise developer and technical partnerships at RIM, who spoke at the Jam event.
What sets RIM apart is how the two worlds are implemented in the user interface. By swiping across the middle of the touchscreen and pressing either the work or the personal button, users can quickly switch between the two environments.
Following his speech, Ostrowski opened the floor for questions and was asked about the ability to do deeper application analytics, create other partitions than work and personal, and connect a device to multiple servers.
The first two aren't in the works, but letting devices connect to more than one server is something the company is "very seriously investigating," Ostrowski said.
Gartner's Leif-Olof Wallin likes the way RIM has implemented the Balance feature, but he also questioned the company's ability to hold its own, especially against Apple and the iPhone in the enterprise.
"The problem with BlackBerry 10 is that it's a completely new version and it will take time before the OS is accredited to be as safe as previous versions," said Wallin.
RIM doesn't have the same extreme focus on the enterprise as the company has had in the past and is instead developing a platform that tries to attract consumers while being "good enough for the enterprise," according to Wallin.
"We think that there will only be about a tenth of the number of policies implemented on BlackBerry 10 compared to the current version of RIM OS," said Wallin.
BlackBerry 10 will still have more policies for remote management compared to Apple's iOS, but the difference will be nowhere near as big as before, according to Wallin.
While the London Jam attendees should give RIM some hope, they also help illustrate RIM's current problem. Out of about 15 attendees that were spotted playing with their phones before the event started, only five were using a RIM device.