BlackBerry Pearl and other slick devices bring new challenges

BlackBerry this week unveiled its Pearl, a slick handheld that makes older BlackBerrys appear clunky and antiquated. What can mobile managers expect as these hot new devices infiltrate the market and eventually the enterprise?

Small, shiny, slick, sleek and stylish.

The new BlackBerry Pearl, which hit stores in the US on 12 September, is all of those things, coupled with similar functionality to the clunky BlackBerrys of yore.

There's no doubt among some mobile experts that top execs and end users are going to crave the hot little device. But the introduction of these new toys-as-business-tools creates an interesting paradigm: End users will want them and mobile managers won't want to support them.

Linking new devices to the network can be tricky, especially when a number of devices are already in use. Managing different device models with different carriers and with different operating systems can strain IT departments' already dwindling resources. Mobile managers have to keep on top of each device's security and the applications running on it, and ensure that it is being used according to corporate mobile policy.

Like Research In Motion's (RIM) BlackBerry Pearl, much the same can be said for the Motorola Q, which was released a few months back and marketed as the BlackBerry killer; a new line of business-class phones from Nokia; and a host of other smartphones that are making their larger, less aesthetically appealing counterparts seem somewhat antiquated and, frankly, just not as cool.

"Many execs are going and picking out a phone, ones with features they like, and bringing them into the company and saying, 'Make this work,'" said Jack Gold, principal and founder of J. Gold Associates, a research and advisory firm specialising in mobility. "It is getting harder and harder for IT groups to say no, especially to key, high-level execs who pretty much get whatever they want. And they don't like walking around with the old brick-style BlackBerrys."

These new devices may be competitively priced, but with any new toy there is a trickle down -- once one person has one, everyone else wants one, and mobile managers are left either to concede and give it to them or play the role of the bad guy and say, "Nope, sorry pal, we're not going to support it."

"This device opens the market up to pro-sumers who would not have bought an older [BlackBerry] because they were clunky and not very cool," Gold said. By pro-sumer, Gold means folks who use the device both as a professional tool and a consumer gadget.

Debbie Cole, IT liaison for Allen Boone Humphries Robinson (ABHR), a Texas law firm that uses Palm Treo 650s -- not the newest or slickest of devices -- said she's had some end users ask about bringing in something a little more modern. While those requests are met on a case-by-case basis, Cole said, oftentimes the staff stick with what they know and what they already support.

"We have a group of people who make the decisions of what to support," she said. "We don't want to have to support 15 different things."

They're very slick. Everybody, of course, wants the best, the latest and the glitziest device.
Tony Arroyo
Senior Distributed Technology EngineerMetLife
Recently, Cole said, end users came in wanting to use the Palm Treo 700w, the Treo based on a Windows Mobile operating system. A few key users tested it out, but the functionality just wasn't there, despite the more appealing look and feel of the device. Not long after, she said, they "had somebody who wanted to try the Motorola Q," which also operates on Windows Mobile. But thinking back to the test of the Treo 700w, that request was dismissed pretty much immediately. The Windows Mobile operating system limited ABHR users from accessing certain applications.

"We told them we were probably going to test them out, but got feedback on the Windows [Mobile] operating system," Cole said. "If they didn't like the Treo 700w, they wouldn't like the Motorola Q."

Right now, Cole said, slick new devices just don't fit ABHR's mobile strategy. Upgrading just so everyone can carry around the prettiest devices would be a waste of time, resources and money, she said, especially when most of the Treo 650s used by the law firm are still under contract.

"Work with what you've got," Cole said, adding that once ABHR starts its phased device update, it will most likely move on to the Palm Treo 700p, which is nicer than the 650 while also keeping the Palm OS that end users are used to.

"It doesn't make much of a difference what it looks like," she said. "It has to do what you need it to do."

Gold said, however, that an influx of new devices targeted at the "cool guys" may soon find its way into the enterprise whether mobile managers like it or not, especially by hitting the competitive $200 price point, which is cheaper than some other BlackBerry models and Palm Treos, and comparable to the Motorola Q.

"As the price of these [devices] comes down, it will also mean that it opens the door for more users to adopt them without breaking the bank," Gold said of the Pearl, which is expected to retail for around $200. "And if they are attractive devices, and especially if they work well, then it makes it easier for them to justify the cost."

Avi Greengart, analyst with Current Analysis and a proud Pearl user, agreed.

"There are always people who want the latest and greatest," he said. "Most of these devices are purchased on two-year contracts that discourage rapid switching."

Greengart said, however, that from a business standpoint, the Pearl does not replace RIM's traditional BlackBerrys. He said it lacks a QWERTY keyboard. The devices have small keys and use a SureType keyboard that "will be frustrating for executives who want to regularly write email responses on the go.

"But mobile email is still largely confined to the executive suite and road warriors," Greengart continued. "The new crop of fashionable smartphones has the opportunity to broaden deployment of these devices to pro-sumers, SMBs and employees at large corporations who primarily use their phone for voice, but would like to be in the loop when they are on the go."

Tony Arroyo, senior distributed technology engineer at MetLife, has been using a Pearl for about four days. Arroyo, who also heads wireless deployments and leads the BlackBerry project at MetLife, said its functionality would be a good fit among the insurance and financial giant's 3,500-strong BlackBerry deployment. He said he would test the Pearl for more than a month before considering piloting the device for general use within the enterprise.

"They're very slick," he said. "Everybody, of course, wants the best, the latest and the glitziest device."

If the Pearl is released into general use, Arroyo said, training and inventory could become a challenge. Being a large insurance agency, MetLife likes to have tight control on device use within the company. There are strict guidelines about what device models, carriers and operating systems can be used. But, Arroyo added, "If you have all of your ducks in a row, it's not that bad."

If an end user came in with a new, slick device that had not been thoroughly tested within the company, they'd be out of luck, Arroyo said.

"The policy is very clear," he said, "and they'd have to bring a very strong business case to bear."

If end users bring in new devices "you lose the ability to control the data on the device. You don't know what's going on," Arroyo continued.

Still, Arroyo said the Pearl would be a good fit, and if testing goes well it could find its way into MetLife's device lineup, though he admits that he's still figuring out how to use all of its additional features.

"It's a great, useful device," he said. "Plus it has an eye-candy quality to it. It's very attractive."

The size and form factor of the BlackBerry Pearl may have some dismissing it as a toy, but it retains powerful functionality compared with other "brick-style" BlackBerrys, Gold said, adding that on the surface, the Pearl "looks very impressive."

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Instead of the two-direction side track wheel, the Pearl features a four-direction track ball to improve navigation, similar to a mouse. The Pearl can also be cradled for charging, instead of plugging a wire into a small USB port. The Pearl uses an Intel Xscale chip, which will offer high performance. It is a quad-band phone, meaning it can work nearly anywhere. Plus, RIM added in a host of consumer-focused functions such as a camera and a music player, which can also be disabled via the BlackBerry Enterprise Server in case enterprises want to block use of these features. BlackBerry also threw voice-activated dialing into the Pearl, Gold said, something many phones have but BlackBerry never included.

Gold added that he's not too fond of where RIM put the add-on memory -- a mini SD card that sits inside next to the SIM card, making it a chore to plug in and take out. The SureType keyboard keeps the size of the device down, but most users would rather have the QWERTY keypad. Casual users wouldn't find that bothersome, however.

"I think this device will get tons of buzz, and it will be a hot seller for [RIM], provided it has the voice and Web surfing quality it claims to have," Gold said. "This is really their cross-over product: enough corporate features to keep enterprise users happy and enough bells and whistles to make it attractive to higher-end consumer types and especially SMBs."

David Heit, a director of product management for RIM, said he does expect an element of users who want the latest phones to pick up a BlackBerry Pearl, but he said many IT shops are going to have to weigh the phone's beauty against supporting it. Even large BlackBerry deployments, he said, have to determine which flavors of BlackBerry they prefer to manage.

"How many models do you really want to support?" Heit asked, later adding that "as deployments have grown, IT will strive for consistency of device model."

Whether mobile managers will play into the influx of new, slick devices is in their hands, Heit said, and all comes back to what kind of mobility policies they set themselves, allowing or disallowing certain devices from coming through the door.

"Part of what they deal with is: 'What additional policies am I going to have to implement to support that device?'" Heit said. While the Pearl has many consumer-type features, it also allows IT to have a level of control over the device: The camera can be disabled, the extra storage can be limited, and the multimedia capabilities can be restricted, he said.

The Pearl, with its added features and sleek design, is a way for cell phone users to get the functionality of a BlackBerry, Heit said, while enterprise users can get BlackBerry functionality with the look of a cell phone.

"It's not a decision of, 'This is the latest device, I have to have it,'" Heit said. "It's, 'What is my policy?'"

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