After a nearly disastrous year and facing an expected negative earnings report on Friday, BlackBerry hopes to start 2014 on a more positive note with interim CEO John Chen. There's also a recent company commitment to helping developers more easily port Android apps to the BlackBerry World app store.
Chen, a former head of Sybase, was named Blackberry's interim CEO and executive chairman, following a failed process to find a buyer to take the phone maker private.
Analysts, meanwhile, are expecting the recent earnings quarter, which ended November 30, to close at a loss, the seventh quarterly loss in a row.
Chen's appointment followed the resignation of CEO Thorsten Heins and a fateful September announcement that BlackBerry was taking nearly $1 billion in charges for unsold smartphones, primarily the Z10 touchscreen device.
Chen said in a blog shortly after his appointment that BlackBerry has "significant financial strength for the long haul" and would leverage its BlackBerry Enterprise Service 10 mobility management platform and a new device strategy focused on enterprise users.
"We are also leveraging our tremendous assets, including BlackBerry Messenger, our network and QNX," the BlackBerry kernel behind the BlackBerry 10 OS used in the Z10 and other devices, he said.
In mid-November, BlackBerry also released the latest BlackBerry 10.2.1 operating system to developers to help them make Android apps as "compatible as possible" with BlackBerry devices. Blackberry hoped that developers would repackage their Android apps to submit to BlackBerry World for sales.
The new 10.2.1 release will be available to the public sometime in 2014, a spokeswoman told Computerworld.
A major criticism of the BlackBerry OS has been a shortage of apps that will run on BlackBerry devices, especially when compared to Android apps, which number more than 1 billion in the Google Play store. By comparison, BlackBerry World has more than 130,000 apps, a BlackBerry spokeswoman said Thursday, about the same amount reported by BlackBerry in late September.
Some IT managers believe Android support is critical to BlackBerry's future success. "BlackBerry should make a bigger push to accept Android apps, since right now you have to essentially sideload them and compatibility issues abound," said Andrew Shattuck, a senior technical support analyst at Rocky Mountain Human Services in Denver in an interview..
Blackberry "has to plan to compete in a two-sided market," comprised of Android and iOS, Shattuck said. "It's their only direction." As smartphones get faster processors, Shattuck said HTML 5 and Java Script developers will surely build more cross-platform apps that can work with BlackBerry and other operating systems.
BlackBerry, in the latter part of 2014, fell to fourth place in smartphone shipments, trailing behind third-place Windows Phone, each with less than 5% of the market, according to IDC and other analysts. Android dominates smartphone shipments globally, with Apple's iOS in second.
Rocky Mountain recently decided to deploy 300 Z10s to its work force by the end of January, and will support them with the BES 10 management platform. Shattuck said a major incentive to sticking with BlackBerry, despite recommendations to seek alternatives, is that BES 10 will also manage iOS and Android devices. Atop of BES 10, Rocky Mountain will use Citrix Receiver software to allow Z10 users to access sensitive patient records directly on their smartphones, with the data kept securely behind the corporate firewall.
Rocky Mountain serves 7,500 people with brain injuries and other cognitive impairments and is required to be HIPAA compliant, meaning users and IT managers must take a number of security steps, including frequent password refreshes. Shattuck said the BlackBerry Balance feature on the Z10 will allow workers to keep all their work-related data partitioned from personal data.
Because of the BES 10 support for Android and iOS, Shattuck said there's further inducement to stay with BlackBerry. "If BlackBerry were to go under or have financial difficulties and we couldn't use their handsets, we could still use the phone infrastructure to access other phone models," he said.
"That being said, people have really had negative predictions about BlackBerry for a long time, but when it comes to a corporate phone, there's more to it than getting the latest and greatest device. We're interested in a bug-free phone. Our organization has been long committed to BlackBerry," Shattuck said.
Despite a Gartner recommendation made to enterprises in September to consider alternatives to BlackBerry within six months, some analysts have been more moderate.
"We see little risk of BlackBerry simply closing its doors and leaving customers in the lurch," said Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates, in a report issued on Thursday. "We evaluate the overall risk of working with BlackBerry as low, and companies should feel comfortable in doing so."