New BlackBerry tool to support iPhone and Android

@CNNMoneyTech December 1, 2011: 2:31 PM ET

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- As a growing number of people bring their iPhones, iPads and Android devices to work, BlackBerry maker Research In Motion wants to make sure it still has a place in the office technology landscape.

That's why RIM (RIMM) this week unveiled a new experimental product that will support iPhone and Android devices. The software, aimed at corporate IT departments, is called BlackBerry Mobile Fusion, and it will allow tech support staff to manage multiple mobile devices through the same interface.

It's an acknowledgement by the Canadian device maker that its once ubiquitous phones have been supplanted by the more popular and consumer-friendly smartphones made by Apple (AAPL, Fortune 500) or running Google's (GOOG, Fortune 500) software.

"Ford popularized the car, but now we have lots of manufacturers making lots of good automobiles," said David Heit, RIM's director of enterprise product management. "As long as we have individual choice, we'll make individual choices, and iOS and Android devices are the most popular now."

That's an understatement. BlackBerry devices' popularity has taken a stunning dive off a cliff over the past two years. In late 2009, BlackBerry controlled 20% of the global smartphone market according to IDC and 43% of the U.S. market, according to comScore. Now, BlackBerry maintains just 10% of the global market and 19% of the U.S.

During the same time, Android device leaders Samsung and HTC combined for nearly 40% of the global market. Apple controls 15%.

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Making matters worse for RIM, its PlayBook tablet has not been well received, and its next-generation devices have faced severe delays in getting to market.

Rather than throw in the towel, RIM turned to what many analysts consider the company's crown jewels: its security software for the corporate world. Though Android and Apple devices have grown more popular in businesses, analysts agree that BlackBerry phones are the most secure.

"I think this is part of a newfound pragmatism around how to approach this market," said Al Hilwa, analyst at IDC. "Doubling down on the enterprise is close to RIM's knitting and will help it maintain a strong niche from which it can roll out a longer-term transition."

Currently, RIM offers the BlackBerry Enterprise server tool for IT departments to manage the BlackBerry phones on their network. But tech support staff have to use a different tool for iPhones or Android devices.

Mobile Fusion, which is currently being tested with a handful of clients and is expected to be released to the public in March, will allow IT departments to perform all those tasks for all company-owned and employee-owned devices from one Web-based console.

RIM's Heit adamantly insisted that Mobile Fusion was not indicative of the company shifting its strategy away from hardware -- or from its core BlackBerry devices.

"From a hardware prospective, what we're doing is still extremely relevant," he said. "We have a wide global footprint. The question becomes what's most important to you in a smartphone: Internet browsing, work or games. That is becoming the key thing in choosing a smartphone." To top of page