BlackBerry in race for corporate customers to take on market leaders

A new software platform may gain a fresh foothold, writes David Flynn.

A new software platform may gain a fresh foothold, writes David Flynn.

BLACKBERRY will campaign to win back former business customers, and upgrade existing ones, now that its all-new BlackBerry 10 software and accompanying wave of devices has been unveiled.

A spokesperson for BlackBerry Australia said the company would be hammering on the doors of Qantas, Woolworths, IBM and other large companies that abandoned BlackBerry devices in favour of smartphones running Apple's iOS and Google's Android operating systems.

The company is so confident it can convince businesses to wind back systems put in place to make the iPhone and Android devices enterprise-grade, that it will give away a number of services.

Sweeteners will include free BlackBerry X10 touchscreen smartphones for evaluating the new hardware, operating system and server infrastructure. Also current enterprise customers will receive a free upgrade of their BlackBerry server software plus one free smartphone.

While BlackBerry already has some 80 million users worldwide, chief executive Thorsten Heins knows the company's reach has to exceed its grasp of current customers.

"We are looking towards growing beyond our user base, to convince users on other platforms that BlackBerry 10 serves them better," Heins told Fairfax Media during an international media briefing at the company's headquarters in Waterloo, Canada.

Byron Capital analyst Tom Astle rates existing BlackBerry users as low-hanging fruit, but estimates that only about 15 per cent of the 80 million subscribers are likely to upgrade to BlackBerry 10 products this year.

"BlackBerry certainly needs to win people back to the platform if they want to become the third smartphone ecosystem," agreed Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi, who suggested BlackBerry should first take aim at Android users, as "they have less investment in the platform than iOS users".

Winning users themselves, as well as their employers, is crucial in a business world growing fond of bring-your-own device strategies, with an increasing number of companies now letting employees choose their own smartphone for work purposes.

Milanesi also sees it as crucial for Blackberry to increase the number of apps available for the new platform, but says the push to have Android apps easily modified for the devices is only "a good tactic in the short term".

"Long term, they need to convert developers to go native as only this will assure richness of experience."

Heins said by the time the BlackBerry Z10 device launched in Australia and the US late next month, there would be more than 100,000 apps available.

Alec Saunders, BlackBerry's vice-president of developer relations, said roughly a quarter of current BlackBerry 10 apps had been adapted from Android, and these tended to be more "personal" apps than for enterprise use.

But his goal was to see more high-quality apps adopting the native look and feel of the new system. "From a user-experience perspective, apps should adopt the conventions of the OS and behave as if they're a natural extension of the OS. "In our case, that means being integrated with the hub, using the special gestures that BlackBerry 10 supports, using cross-cut menus and so on. Android apps don't do that, they have their own conventions."

David Flynn travelled to Waterloo as a guest of BlackBerry.

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