Blackberry fading to Black

By OLGA KHARIF

Research In Motion Ltd.’s Tim Neil pitched the new Blackberry 10 architecture last month, but the company is cutting staff with an uncertain future.

Commercial users seek phone alternatives as RIM teeters on brink

Research In Motion customers from GoDaddy to asset manager Thames River Capital UK are preparing for the worst: the loss of the BlackBerry service their employees depend on to communicate.

RIM’s stock has slumped more than 70 percent in the past year, and tumbled 19 percent on June 29 after the company posted a quarterly loss and delayed the BlackBerry 10 operating system, increasing pressure on RIM to find a buyer or sell assets. While RIM has built infrastructure to ensure continued service, some customers are devising backup plans as RIM prepares to face shareholders at its annual meeting tomorrow.

“In the past three months there’s been a lot of concern that the BlackBerry platform won’t be around in the future,” said Maribel Lopez, founder of Lopez Research, a wireless- industry consultant based in San Francisco. “It’s not unheard of for a large phone manufacturer to go out of business.”

Corporate customers, the backbone of RIM’s business, are fortifying contingency plans so they won’t be affected by a possible breakup of the BlackBerry-maker or other setbacks. With millions of employees connecting to the office through mobile e- mail, companies have been eager to establish a fallback or replacement plan, said Avi Greengart, a technology research director at Current Analysis.

Thames River Capital supplies about 140 of its 170 employees with smartphones, most of them BlackBerrys, said Robert Cockerill, head of infrastructure at the London-based money manager. With the delay of BlackBerry 10 and a service contract with RIM expiring this year, Cockerill said he expects much of his staff to switch to Apple’s iPhone or devices based on Google’s Android platform.

Cockerill has brought in Mobile Iron, a Mountain View, Calif.-based developer of software that helps companies manage and protect data on mobile devices and tablets. Mobile Iron provides security for Thames River Capital including encryption and password protection for non-BlackBerry devices such as iPads, he said.

Thames River Capital is preparing for scenarios where BlackBerry service may be shut down, disrupted, or if a competitor such as Microsoft acquires RIM and converts the operating system to its Exchange e-mail service, he said.

“There is a risk of RIM getting bought,” Cockerill said. “But if you have the right support you can be agnostic and it won’t really matter.”

MobileIron Chief Executive Officer Bob Tinker said his customer list includes 100 Fortune 500 companies, and about a quarter of those customers are financial services firms.

“Large enterprises don’t want to be locked in with a single vendor anymore,” Tinker said in an interview. Customers want to embrace all the innovation in mobile and RIM’s delay of BlackBerry 10 doesn’t help that, he said.

“CIO’s are now asking us: ‘What do we do if RIM gets acquired or if they restructure,”‘ said Tinker.

Norton Rose LLP, a law firm with 6,000 BlackBerry-equipped employees, is using MobileIron’s software to support iPhones and iPads.

The Day

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