In an effort to shore up its position in the small-business community, Research In Motion announced Monday the launch of its BlackBerry Management Center. The free, Web-based service enables businesses to centrally manage up to 100 BlackBerry phones.
The service allows businesses to wirelessly back up BlackBerry smartphones on a scheduled basis. If an employee's BlackBerry is lost or stolen, the service also provides the ability to remotely lock the content on that device, and, if needed, erase the contents -- including the microSD card, if so desired.
If a BlackBerry is lost, a business can also use the Management Center to remotely lock it, cause it to make a loud ring, and show a message on its screen. The center also permits restoration of the settings and content, or the resetting of a password.
Since many small businesses have little or no tech support, the center is designed for users without technical skills. The only requirements are an Internet browser, an Internet connection, BlackBerry smartphones with device software v. 4.6 or later, and a data plan for the phones that includes Internet access.
Laura DiDio, an analyst for industry research firm Information Technology Intelligence Corp., said the free service makes sense for Canada-based RIM.
RIM is "being overrun and overwhelmed by two giant competitors, Apple and Google," she said. "If you're RIM, it's a very smart move to appeal to" or small and midsize businesses. DiDio pointed out that "a lot of companies have handed out BlackBerrys to their employees."
'Could Make a Difference'
She noted a general perception that RIM is a "company starting to slip," even in its one-time stronghold of businesses. In July, RIM cut its workforce about 10 percent. Along with the layoffs, the Waterloo, Ontario-based company also changed its senior management team, with a new COO for product and sales, a new managing director for global sales, and a new COO for operations.
In the last year, the company's stock has dropped more than 50 percent. Earlier this month, a survey of the U.S. smartphone market by comScore found that RIM's market share dropped from 27.1 percent to 23.4 percent during the period covered, which ended in June. Google's Android OS and Apple's iPhone were in first and second place, respectively.
In the previous period, comScore's report, which is generated from online surveys of 30,000 U.S. customers, had ranked RIM's BlackBerry in second place.
The new BlackBerry Management Center may not distinguish RIM for long, DiDio noted, since Google or Apple could easily offer a similar service. "But," she said, "it could make a difference in the meantime, since this kind of free service and support is a big deal" for small businesses.