Exclusive: BlackBerry grows round Apple iPhone

By Jonny Evans

If you'd only just landed and were trying to get to grips with what's happening in the smartphone space, you'd be forgiven for seeing it as a two-horse race between two media magnets, the Apple [AAPL] iPhone and the Google Android option. You'd be wrong -- there's others at play, including BlackBerry maker, Research In Motion [RIM], a company that's ready to rumble in the smartphone war. I spoke with the company's Anthony Payne, director of Platform Marketing.

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Apple exploded onto the smartphone scene in 2007 [above], with Google Android following soon after, prompting a well-publicized war of words between Apple CEO, Steve Jobs and then Google boss, Eric Schmidt. Both new platforms have dived directly into an increasingly vital market.

Competition is good

"There's no question the market has changed in the last three or four years," said Payne. "We're still growing really rapidly in the most exciting industry on the planet, in my opinion. A significant percentage of our growth has come from the consumer markets. It is a far more competitive environment, but we think we're doing very well."

Did Apple's arrival work for RIM in any way?

"I think overall if you look at any market it's always a good thing if new entrants to the market come in and attract customers based on different value propositions," Payne says. "It opens everybody's eyes up to new possibilities, so I think it is generically a good thing for the industry. We think we had a great offer and we still think we do, and I think the [sales] numbers back this up."

Payne moved to explain why BlackBerry continues to make sense for business users, stressing his company's offering of managed services.

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"What BlackBerry provides is a genuine platform, it's not just a device with App development and an App catalog," he says. "We think of the BlackBerry device as the greatest communication device on the planet." There are  33.4 million Facebook users on BlackBerry, he reveals.

Security is serious

Security and data privacy are growing issues. Apple and Google both spoke to the Senate this week. They were talking about location data, but it raised a whole host of interesting discussions on privacy and their different models of security.

"BlackBerry has for a long time prided itself on security both for end users and for company's managing the deployment. Data resting on the device is secure, it's very hard to access it as it travels across the network, we take security and privacy of data extremely seriously both for enterprise and consumer users. We also think that's one of the reasons consumers value BlackBerry: they look to the key security-conscious markets we serve, government, enterprise, and think if the security is good enough for them, then it will be good enough for me as a consumer," Payne explained.

Payne discussed the recently-introduced BlackBerry Protect service, which lets users remotely wipe the device in the event it is stolen -- just like Apple's Find My iPhone feature, which has been available for some time.

The big take-away from our discussion was Payne's understanding that there's no one size fits-all strategy for success. This is informing RIM's future strategy.

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Accepting change

RIM seems to be shifting to a model in which its devices become one of many different devices by providing secure management tools for IT.

The company this month announced plans to purchase ubitexx (creator of the ubi-Suite device management solution). The intent is to create a multi-platform BlackBerry Enterprise Solution for managing mobile devices within organizations. IT departments will be able to manage lots of different devices -- an employee might use an iPhone, but that iPhone's permissions and access will be managed by a BlackBerry solution.

"There are other devices out there, employees are buying them and it is a real challenge for IT departments how to manage those," explains Payne. "They don't want to have to say 'no' all the time. We think that by offering device management tools like these, we're offering the opportunity to have BlackBerry at the core, but to still be able to manage other devices."

Heading to the cloud

Apple has achieved huge publicity regarding its future cloud plans -- not bad at all, considering the company has said nothing whatsoever about them. We know Google and Amazon are plotting similar moves, and Microsoft is already in that space. Little surprise then that RIM has its own cloud vision.

"We're not new to the cloud," says Payne. "It has been a core component of BlackBerry devices for many years. Services which sit between the device and the server have been part of our proposition for a long, long time."

For enterprise users, new cloud-based RIM solutions include a recently-disclosed deal with Microsoft under which BlackBerry devices will be able to access cloud-based Microsoft Office 365 components; while BlackBerry Management Services lets non-technical users manage fleets of smartphones.

"We think the cloud relationship with mobile is hugely important," Payne said.

Finally I asked:

Q: Is RIM down and out, or is it ready to rumble?

Anthony Payne: "I might not put it in those terms, but I do hope that what we've talked about shows that it is very much the latter. We're really excited about the market. Things are moving so quickly and it's an interesting place to be. Customers are buying our products, which shows we're more than relevant."

If you're interested in taking a look at RIM/BlackBerry strategy, you can read the full interview transcript here.

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