Analysts are unsure whether RIM's new enterprise mobility software, now available for download, can halt the migration away from BlackBerry smartphones.
The new BES 10 tool set combines security, device and application management for multivendor tablets and smartphones.
The new BlackBerry Enterprise Service 10 (BES 10) software supports devices running BlackBerry, Android and iOS operating systems. The software will also run on the BlackBerry 10 smartphones that are slated to be unveiled on Jan. 30, Research in Motion said.
The software carries a one-time fee of $99 per supported device when installed on a corporate server. A limited 60 day free trial download of the software is also available.
While RIM said that BES 10 offers capabilities not available on competitive mobility management products, analysts say that it's future is largely tied to any success by the two new BlackBerry 10 smartphones.
One, dubbed the Z10, will have a 4.2-in. touchscreen, while the other will have a physical keyboard, according to earlier RIM statements.
RIM's future success "is more about the devices, but the BES 10 server support is especially important for enterprises," said Phillip Redman, an analyst at Gartner, in an email.
However, he added, "I don't think that BES 10 is going to convince IT or users" to go with RIM.
RIM today touted its 10 years of enterprise mobility management expertise and called its software both cost efficient and reliable, and the most widely used device management system worldwide. Previous versions of BlackBerry Enterprise Server software are used by thousands of companies, RIM said.
RIM won't say how many existing BES licenses have been sold, but has said there are more than 80 million BlackBerry smartphone and tablet users globally.
The success of BES 10 could come from RIM's decision to support Android and iOS devices as well as its own, analysts said. BlackBerry is now struggling with a share of about 5% of the smartphone market because many of its past users have converted to Android or iOS, according to several analysts.
Providing a single console to manage BlackBerry, Android and iOS devices could prove a path to renerwed relevancy, analysts said.
BES 10 also offers a way for businesses to manage apps that workers get through the BlackBerry World for Work online store. IT shops can push and install mandatory apps to employees, whether they use corporate-owned devices or their own.
In addition, BES 10 is integrated with Active Directory and can help provide VPN and encryption security to devices.
The software includes new BlackBerry Balance technology, which allows for two different secure spaces within the device OS to separate corporate from personal data, said Jeff Holleran, senior director of enterprise product management at RIM.
"The feedback from hundreds of enterprise customers who tested it is that this a big win for them," Holleran said.
When a user of a BlackBerry 10 device searches through email and other messages, Balance makes it possible to see work and personal emails simultaneously, while the two versions of an inbox (personal and corporate) are segregated on the OS.
Holleran called that Balance functionality unique.
RIM cited two customers who have tested the new software.
One, The Co-operative Group in the UK, describes BES as offering a refined user interface that lets users switch between apps and content on the personal and work profiles within Balance.
The Balance technology is seen as useful if a device is lost or stolen and must be wiped (through BES 10) of vital enterprise content. When an employee leaves a job, he can keep his personal data on his personal BlackBerry 10, while the corporate data is wiped free, Holleran said.
Peter Lesser, director of global technology at legal services firm Skadden, said in a statement that he plans to implement BES 10. He said it's mainly due to its ability to manage devices running multiple operating systems.
Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates, said the ability to manage multiple platforms and to separate corporate and personal data should lower device costs of ownership while providing a secure and user-friendly approach.
The question of whether BES 10 can help RIM regain lost market share remains unanswered. Most analysts are convinced that RIM failed to keep market share by losing customers who wanted better touchscreen devices like those from Apple and Samsung, among others, that offered better browsers.
The Jan. 30 smartphone launch could help answer questions on RIM's future.
Meanwhile, some current BlackBerry users still want a physical keyboard, and RIM plans to offer one running the new OS, as well as a touchscreen model. Photos of both have circulated in recent months, though RIM hasn't said whether they are accurate.
"RIM can't make a go of it simply on their BES software," Gold said. "RIM's turnaround will be dependent on the acceptance of the new devices. Mobile Device Management is not enough, unless RIM wants to get out of the hardware business and drastically downsize, which it does not."
By allowing an IT shop to simultaneously manage Android, iOS and BlackBerry devices, BES 10 means an IT shop will be under less pressure to remove RIM devices from its infrastructure, Gold predicted.
Also, Gold said organizations will want to install BES 10 to get full management capability of the new smartphones.
Competing mobile device management products, such as those from Good, or VMware or Red Bend will support the new BlackBerry smartphones, though BES 10 will be able to manage them more completely, Gold said.
A variety of smartphones with dual identities for corporate and personal data are slated for unveiling in 2013.
Some make use of hypervisors which can either run in hardware or as a guest OS to provide a dual persona for personal and corporate data.
Holleran, Gold and Redman agreed that BlackBerry Balance is not a hypervisor, but instead is a highly secure capability built into the root of the BlackBerry 10 OS. "It is not an OS inside of an OS," Holleran said.
Redman described Balance as "application specific" software that's similar to AT&T's Toggle product for Android or Enterproid's Divide software.
Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen, send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed .
Read more about mobile device management in Computerworld's Mobile Device Management Topic Center.
Join the CIO Australia group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.