The reviews are in and Blackberry’s new phone, the Blackberry 10, is a hit. Reviewers say that it’s got all the right stuff to put the long-suffering Blackberry brand back on the map, after it lost huge amounts of market share to Apple and the companies that make Android phones. As it happens, though, one of the features Blackberry is touting as a breakthrough is old hat for Israeli start-up Cellrox.
In 2008, Blackberrys were still all the rage, but then came the iPhone, followed by the Android phones. The two made deep inroads among personal and corporate users, and Blackberry’s manufacturer, Research In Motion (RIM) fired thousands of workers and set to work on its answer to the smartphone challenge posed by its competitors. This week, the company came out with a new name (it’s now called Blackberry, like the phone), a new operating system, and new models that it hopes will bring the masses of corporate users who once sported Blackberrys back to the fold.
Among the Blackberry 10 features that reviewers like best is Blackberry Balance, a remote management module that allows corporate IT or security departments to erase corporate data if an employee loses his phone or is fired. Because people love their smartphones, “bring your own device (BYOD)” — in which employees use their personal smartphones for their business needs, allowing them to keep photos, work email, contacts, corporate documents, and so on, on the same device — has become popular in many large organizations.
For workers, it’s much easier, because they don’t have to schlep around two devices, one for personal and one for business use. But for their employers, it’s less fun, especially from a security point of view. This meshing of the personal and the professional makes it difficult for businesses to ensure the integrity and safety of important data. Life is messy, and people don’t always pay attention to what they are reading where and who has access to their phone. And in the case of an angry ex-employee who has sensitive documents on his device that he could potentially use to hurt his former employer, the need to get control of that information is critical.
That’s exactly what Blackberry Balance does. Administrators have access to data uploaded from corporate servers, or information, messages, and other items that are tagged as corporate property. In case of need, an administrator can remotely wipe the corporate data from a BYOD phone, leaving the user’s personal data intact. Blackberry hopes that Balance will be its ticket back into the hearts of the many businesses that dropped the company’s devices for iPhones and Android phones; after all, neither Apple nor Google have built anything similar into their operating systems.
But hold on; Blackberry’s solution isn’t as unique as the company thinks it is. In 2011, when Blackberry was just talking about the Balance feature that would be baked into the Blackberry 10 operating system, Israeli start-up Cellrox was already selling its Android virtual partition system, allowing the installation of not just two partitions (corporate/private) as Balance does, but an unlimited number of partitions, said Cellrox CEO Omer Eiferman. “You can have a partition for business, for photos, for games, for apps, and anything else you want.” And employers can create a corporate partition, which they can control remotely, just like administrators who use Balance will be able to do.
Multiple partitions isn’t the only advantage of Cellrox, said Eiferman. “Blackberry Balance is brand new, so we don’t have details about how it works, but if it works like the several other virtualization solutions on the market, Cellrox still has a great advantage. We allow apps to run natively, accessing all the hardware and operating system resources they need to run fully.” None of Cellrox’s competitors provide that feature, said Eiferman. “The beauty and advantage of our system is that users get full access to their phone’s features, while maintaining the privacy of their own data — while corporate IT departments can ensure the safety of their important data.”
Eiferman is not at all upset — or surprised — that Blackberry would horn in on “his” idea. “For us it is a validation of our product and model,” he said. “Multiple personality is the solution to enterprise needs and the BYOD movement. We are very happy that Blackberry finally understands this, and proud to have been there first.”