Every day on Research In Motion's 2013 calendar must have a big red star, given how critical every day of next year will be for the future of the company. On Wednesday, the company took another step to prepare business customers for the launch of the new BlackBerry 10 platform at the end of January, with the announcement of its BB10 Tech Review program.
Under that program, over 120 selected enterprise and governmental customers will begin beta testing a limited number of pre-production touchscreen BB10 smartphones, using RIM's new enterprise mobility management solution, BB Enterprise Service 10. The company said the beta testers include 64 Fortune 500 companies, and spans financial, government, insurance, healthcare, manufacturing, media and distribution industries.
The company said these companies will get a firsthand look at the new releases' ability to flow between core applications, the dedicated enterprise app store, the platform's secure connectivity to behind-the-firewall apps and data, and such features as BB Balance, which separates the device into a virtual version for work and one for personal life.
BB10 Ready, FIPS
The move follows other recent steps toward the launch, including the announcement last week of the gold version of its software development kit and sending out invitations for the Jan. 30 launch in New York.
Earlier this month, the Canadian company introduced an incentive effort, the BlackBerry 10 Ready Program, designed to encourage businesses to switch to the new BlackBerry smartphones. But the company has been battling some very public switches away from its platform, such as the announcement in November that the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board will discontinue using BlackBerry in favor of Apple's iPhone 5.
On the upside, RIM has received FIPS 140-2 certification, the first time a RIM product has been so certified prior to its release. It means that U.S. government agencies can start using the devices as soon as they are on the market. In addition, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency announced last week that, even though it had also said it will drop the BlackBerry for the iPhone 5, it has agreed to test BB10 for possible adoption.
Current Analysis' Avi Greengart has seen and used new BB10 devices, and, while he can't discuss them in detail at the moment, he said he was allowed by the company to note that he was "very impressed." He added that he had been "vocally dismissive of what RIM has shown in the past, especially at BlackBerry World this year."
Greengart pointed out that among the many challenges the company is facing is the fact that the "bring your own device" movement has accelerated among businesses "that had previously been BlackBerry-only."
He also noted that, although RIM is known for its base in enterprises, "at the end of the day, it is a consumer company," with most of its customers around the world being consumers. It has to thrive in that market anyway, Greengart said, and being one among several choices for BYOD companies is part of the same challenge.
He also pointed out that RIM is moving into 2013 with 80 million customers, as well as "a certain level of trust in IT departments," and it is "doing a good job of generating excitement about its launch, particularly in markets outside the U.S." It has also been conducting sessions for third-party developers, under the sticky name of BlackBerry Jams, and, as Greengart noted, "claims to have 50 carrier partners around the world."