We know the story: It wasn't so long ago that BlackBerry was the king of mobility that met several needs. It was a phone. It was an email machine. It simplified access to apps. By combining the phone, PDA and a good keyboard into one device, the BlackBerry was the original game changing smartphone for enterprises. The Crackberry was very real back in the day.
But this was over a decade ago. BlackBerry had its heyday as the definition of enterprise chic in the mid-2000s, then slowly faded away as Apple, Google and Samsung came out with superior app stores, music and user friendly devices. At this point, BlackBerries have lost the device fight and Apple, Android and Windows Mobile have emerged as champions.
During that time, it felt like BlackBerry/RIM passed up multiple opportunities to become a market leader. It didn't open up BlackBerry Enterprise Server-level security to other devices. It never developed a legitimate app development platform or app store. It couldn't create competitive devices quickly enough for the devices to be relevant. And it never became the secure cloud, even though mobile and cloud are two sides of the same coin from a technical and experiential perspective. Although BlackBerry Messenger has taken off in some countries, it quickly got eclipsed by WhatsApp.
The Security Card
But BlackBerry never relinquished one key key advantage -- security. As an example, nearly everyone got hit by Heartbleed in some way, since OpenSSL is a foundational technology on the Internet. Although many companies are embarrassed by their exposure to OpenSSL, the truth is that everyone was caught flat-footed.
Although BlackBerry had no direct threat to its own devices, BlackBerry was comfortable with announcing Heartbleed security updates to BlackBerry Messaging and mail services for Android and iOS. Although this is the Mother of All Security Breaches, this is just one in a long list of enterprise security challenges that it has had to face.
In comparison, Google is trying to handwave the problem away even though Android 4.1.1 (Jelly Bean) mobile devices are still prone to Heartbleed. It becomes more difficult to fix services and/or devices with security flaws when you have to first create a general fix, then work with phone manufacturers that have all forked their own operating systems.
And although Apple had no direct exposure to Heartbleed, it is ironic that BlackBerry had exposure to Heartbleed because BlackBerry opened up its services to Apple devices. If companies have to add security risks to put their applications on your operating system, is your operating system actually safer to use?
So, BlackBerry both knows how to design for security and to react to catastrophic problems. BlackBerry has actually gotten in trouble in the past for being too secure and not allowing governments to access BlackBerry-managed messages, which speaks to the level of security that BlackBerry can provide.
As a comparison, Samsung recently touted reaching the "highest level of security" on Galaxy devices. (Author's note: I own a Galaxy phone and love it. You will pry it from my cold, dead hands.) But what they have actually accomplished is a Common Criteria certification.
And in that certification, the Samsung devices studied were found to be level 1 (EAL1) compliant, which shows that security has been functionally tested. EAL1 is typically seen as a basic assurance that security functions as designed and that there has been third-party due diligence but does not require a thorough examination of the Target of Evaluation (TOE, or the technology being evaluated for security reasons).
In comparison, BlackBerry is at EAL 4+ for Common Criteria, which means that security functionalities have been methodically designed, tested and reviewed. This is typically the standard for commercial operating systems. So, BlackBerry is far ahead of Samsung's claims from a security perspective.
BlackBerry's New Path to Glory
Having said all this, I'm not confused about where BlackBerry stands in the market. It lost the phone market and is unlikely to ever come back. It lost the developers by ignoring them for years. And it has been passed over in the cloud, in messaging, in tablets and many other markets over the past five or six years.
So, where is the actual opportunity? It all goes back to security and a wise investment that BlackBerry made in QNX in 2010.
First, BlackBerry is still the sine qua non in mobile security. We live in a world that is getting more invasive and threatening by the moment. And we are living in a world that is increasingly connected.
Put all the pieces together and it is obvious that BlackBerry needs to get away from just securing smartphones (a market that is ripe to be commoditized in the near future) and focus on securing the next 10 billion connected devices of sensors, smart furniture and automation, and anything else in the Internet of Everything that can connect to cellular or WiFi networks. By supporting the secure connected world, BlackBerry could get back into the game with retail, manufacturing and other tech-hungry verticals.
Second is the smart auto. When Ford replaced Microsoft with BlackBerry, some may have wondered why. But QNX has been a top automotive vendor for years and its standards-based operating system is considered to be important middleware to help tie car systems together. So, BlackBerry has a path to own the smart car just as we are finally realizing how helpful it is to have a car that can do some of the thinking for us.
But there is also a bigger picture in that QNX has a lot of experience in embedding complex computing into everyday devices. As we start to have smart refrigerators, smarter home automation systems and the emergence of smarter furniture, we're going to need dedicated computing that can manage our preferences based on specific spatial, temperature-based or electromagnetic circumstances. Rather than bring in a traditional Apple or Windows OS, why not bring in an OS that was built to support specific objects and devices rather than a standalone computing environment?
In general, the smarter device world will require companies to bring together legacy code while maintaining a modern UX, which is something that QNX has tested. That backwards compatibility as a middleware layer is going to be vital. Add the auto industry's well-deserved concern for risk and the need for secure interactions and multiply that concern with the concerns of sharing additional personal information -- we start coming back to BlackBerry.
BlackBerry will need to embrace a future that many users still have not fully accepted. Who honestly thinks of cars, desks, thermostats and telemetry devices as part of their enterprise mobility deployment? IT departments are not making this leap of responsibility yet. But this is where BlackBerry's true opportunity lies.
So, this is the roadmap for BlackBerry to become the future king of mobility. It will not be an easy path. To prepare for the future, BlackBerry will have to shrug off much of the legacy technology that originally made it great. It's a difficult road to follow, but then again, greatness is not for the timid.