BlackBerry has launched new software for iOS and Android phones that enables users to keep work-related communications and apps secure and separate from their personal data.
Secure Work Space is aimed at BlackBerry's corporate customers who want their employees to be able to use their personal smartphones and tablets at work regardless of what operating system they use and who need to use multiple devices with different platforms.
Businesses that already have the BlackBerry Enterprise Service 10 platform installed for their BlackBerry devices can now add iOS and Android phones to the secure network for a licence fee of $99 per year per device.
Those that don't use BlackBerrys at all can download the basic secure platform for free and pay the same device fee.
The company is also offering a free 60-day trial for any business that wants to try out the system.
Once employees download the Secure Work Space app from the Apple Store or Google Play, work-related data is routed through BlackBerry's secure network, which encrypts all data transported between the wireless provider and the end user, while personal data continues to be transmitted in the usual way.
The software keeps corporate data such as email, documents, calendars, contacts, customized work applications and internal networks separate and secure behind the signature firewall for which BlackBerry is known, while keeping personal applications and communication in a less tightly controlled space.
Users can toggle back and forth between the two spaces in the same way that they access any application on their phone —by clicking on the relevant icon.
"It's very easy and seamless to switch back and forth between your work information, which is confidential, and your personal information, which is also private to you and is not shared with your corporation," said David J. Smith, executive vice-president of enterprise mobile computing at BlackBerry.
The software, which has been in the trial phase since January but officially launched on Tuesday, works on Apple devices running iOS 5 or higher (except iPhone 3GS) and Android versions 2.3 through 4.2.
BlackBerry made its name by providing a high level of security at the device, server and network level, but until now, that security advantage has been available only to BlackBerry users.
"Secure Work Space leverages the same trusted behind-the-firewall connection available for BlackBerry smartphones and extends BlackBerry security capabilities for data-at-rest and data-in-transit to iOS and Android devices," the Waterloo, Ont-based company said in a press release.
The company said it decided to expand its secure service to non-BlackBerry platforms after hearing from customers who were seeing an increasing number of employees bringing personal devices to work and wanted a way to manage all of the devices on their network with one secure system.
"This is all about embracing 'bring your own device to work'," Smith said. "We're seeing that most companies now have a heterogeneous environment where there are BlackBerrys but there are also iOS and Android devices in many cases. So, it makes sense that we would extend the BlackBerry security solution to these other devices — although it's something we haven't done in the past."
Some observers have also noted that it's one way for BlackBerry to try to claw back some of the share of the business market that has been snatched by its wireless rivals, Apple and Google, makers of the Android operating system.
"It's more a defensive move than anything else — for the corporate clients, in particular, where there's multi-device environments," said Kaan Yigit, president of Solutions Research Group. "If they already have a mixed bag of users but with BlackBerry as the central legacy platform, being able to offer this would arguably help stem the erosion and the slow chipping away of the other two (Google and Apple) at the corporate customer base."
Yigit doesn't think the move will lure back any customers who've strayed away from BlackBerry, but it will make things easier for IT departments of large corporations struggling to manage multiple operating systems and will give them a reason to renew their contracts with BlackBerry.
"It creates good will," he said. "For corporate Canada, they're under tremendous pressure: on the one hand, they want some level of separation and security; on the other hand, the people who work for them are saying, 'Hey, look, this (iOS or Android device) is just easier to use for me'."
BlackBerry's own products have recovered some consumer confidence this year with the launch of the Z10 and Q10 phones, helping to bring the company's stock out of the doldrums.
"In the Canadian market … you've seen the slide stop, and now, they're regaining a little bit in terms of consumer consideration," Yigit said. "In the U.S., it's hard to say. Here, it's a smaller market; it's their home market."
Share of Blackberry on the Toronto Stock Exchange rose 47 cents Tuesday, closing at $15.32.
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