RIP, BlackBerry

Bob Bragdon on the imminent demise of his longtime smartphone vendor

Alas, poor BlackBerry, I knew it well. Apologies for quoting Hamlet, but it seems appropriate.

I got my first BlackBerry in the late '90s. It was a pager, and it was great. I had never heard of Research in Motion, but an ISP bartered with my company to get my team using the devices. They were pretty cool for the time. And they always worked.

We didn't give a lot of thought to security back then, but as I understand it, they were pretty secure.

I've used lots of BlackBerry devices over the years, as they became a ubiquitous business tool. They always did their job: allowing me to access corporate information when I couldn't or chose not to get on the corporate network. The form factor was and continues to be good, with a full physical keyboard that many prefer over the virtual keyboards of iOS devices. As BlackBerrys became smartphones, their security and manageability remained good.

[Also read Android vs iOS vs BlackBerry: Which is most secure?]

That's why they've been an enterprise favorite. You could lock and wipe them remotely, if need be. You controlled all levels of access and support. In many ways, they were better than some laptop systems.

There I go, talking about BlackBerrys in the past tense. But the past tense is where they are headed. Scores of businesses are allowing the BlackBerry to die through attrition, and they long for the day--not far off--when they will be able to unplug their BlackBerry Enterprise Servers and just rely on ActiveSync. The BlackBerry is succumbing to usability and the consumerization of IT.

It's a tool with good manageability and security, but BlackBerry's user-friendliness has been put to shame by iPhones and Androids, cool devices that were designed with the end user in mind, but with little regard for the demands of the enterprise. They have questionable security and manageability, which can expose the business to unwelcome risks.

But let's be honest: This isn't the first time this has happened to enterprise IT. Remember the PC revolution? It began at home. Those dumb terminals went the way of the dinosaurs. So is it now with BlackBerrys, I fear. Will we survive? Sure. But we need to change how we think about mobile devices, and we are woefully behind the curve on this one.

As we talk about all these options, we're speaking of apples and oranges. We talk about BlackBerrys vs. iPhones vs. Android phones. BlackBerry is a single hardware and software platform, as is iOS with iPhones and iPads. Android, on the other hand, is a platform with many hardware options, some of which can be made very secure and some of which don't really care about security. Even how we define security for these devices remains a topic of debate.

But at the end of the day, we're just living through another technology revolution. We'll figure it out. We always do. RIP, BlackBerry.

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Bob Bragdon

CSO (US)
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