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BlackBerry to Secure Android, iOS

Thorsten Heins and the Z10
Getty Images
Thorsten Heins and the Z10

BlackBerry will offer technology to separate and secure work and personal data on mobile devices powered by Google's Android and Apple's iOS, the company said Thursday.

The new feature could help BlackBerry—which in January changed its name from Research in Motion—sell high-margin services to enterprise clients even if their workers are using smartphones made by competitors. That could be crucial for Blackberry, which has lost a vast amount of market share to the iPhone and to Android devices, including Samsung's Galaxy line.

Jefferies analyst Peter Misek said he expects BlackBerry's device-management software to gain traction this year and contribute to revenue next year.

"Supporting devices with the best, most secure and easiest-to-use mobile solution should enable RIM to transform into what we believe is an attractive model," he said in a note to clients.

The offering could help BlackBerry shore up its profitable services business. Its shares plunged in December after the company said it was changing its the way it charges for services, cutting fees for customers that do not need advanced security and other enhanced features.

Secure Work Space will be available before the end of June and will be managed through the BlackBerry Enterprise Service 10 platform, which lets corporate and government clients use devices with different operating systems.

BlackBerry said Secure Work Space fences off corporate email, calendar, contacts, tasks, memos, web browsing and document editing from personal apps and content.

In a bid to regain market share and return to profit, the company earlier this year introduced a line of smartphones powered by BlackBerry Enterprise Service 10. The touch-screen version, called the Z10, is available more than 20 countries; the Q10, which has a physical keyboard, will be available in April.

Those devices have a feature, Balance, that keeps corporate and personal data separate. IT departments can manage corporate content on a phone, while users can store and use personal apps and content on the same device without corporate oversight.

With Secure Work Space, "we're extending as many of these (Balance) features as possible to other platforms," David Smith, BlackBerry's head of mobile enterprise computing, said in a statement.

The move comes as Samsung—whose Galaxy devices have gained popularity— attempts to become a more viable option for business customers, offering security features such as Samsung Knox, SAFE or Samsung for Enterprise.

BlackBerry said Secure Work Space means clients will not need to configure and maintain expensive virtual private network (VPN) infrastructure to give workers' devices access to data and applications that live behind corporate firewalls.

"Secure Work Space also offers the same end-to-end encryption for data in transit as we have offered on BlackBerry for many years, so there is no need for a VPN," Peter Devenyi, head of enterprise software, said in an interview.

The new feature could also help stem declines in BlackBerry's service revenue. That business has long been a cash cow for BlackBerry because of the large clients that pay to use its extensive network and security offerings.

However, the company has been under pressure to reduce its infrastructure access fees, and opted to do so during the transition to BlackBerry 10. Due to the changes, BlackBerry's service revenue is expected to decline over the course of this year.

Giving clients the ability to manage BlackBerry devices as well as Android smartphones and iPhones may encourage clients to continue to pay for and use BlackBerry's device management services.

Last week, CEO Thorsten Heins said Z10 sales had exceeded expectations in emerging markets such as India, where cheaper, entry-level phones are popular.

The company said Wednesday that it had received an order for 1 million BlackBerry 10s—its largest order ever from a single customer.

The company plans to report quarterly results March 28.

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