Research in Motion’s BlackBerry has created a generation of business executives who’ve learned to type with fumbling thumbs (and inspired a new verb for the activity: “squirreling”). But while most customers say the BlackBerry is a great phone, Web and e-mail combo, some also say it has limited potential beyond that.
For Ralph Barber, CTO of Holland & Knight, an international law firm with seven offices in Florida, the handhelds proved their worth. In 2004, during one of the state’s worst-ever hurricane seasons, the firm’s Fort Lauderdale office was incommunicadobut the few dozen lawyers there weren’t, thanks to their BlackBerrys.
“The beauty of the BlackBerry is the simplicity of it,” he says. “The functionality of other devices is great, but we wanted something simple.”
Mike Sutten, chief technology officer with Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, had a similar experience during hurricane season. With many cell-phone sites disabled, employees on land and at sea communicated via their BlackBerrys using short message service (SMS), which allows small text messages to be sent over wireless networks; this proved more reliable than traditional e-mail. Sutten opted for the BlackBerry system for its mail and messaging speed, the durability of the device and the ease of using it with one hand.
Others, while happy with the BlackBerry for voice and e-mail, wonder whether its operating system can handle more complex programs. Michael Gliedman, CIO of the National Basketball Association, says he’s keeping his eye on the Windows Mobile platform as an alternative. He’s fiddled with a few proprietary BlackBerry programs, but says other operating systems may be better suited to handle advanced applications, such as sales force automation. For its part, RIM says third-party developers have written 241 mobile applications for the BlackBerry to date.
Office equipment maker Pitney Bowes, meanwhile, deployed 500 BlackBerry devices to mobile maintenance workers, to help them wirelessly manage schedules and report repair records, says Donna Dietz, vice president of technology planning.
But the company also rolled out 1,500 other deviceswhich included Palm Treos and three models running Microsoft’s Pocket PCfor other field maintenance technicians. The reason: Dietz’s team couldn’t get everyone to agree on a single device, because the different departments wanted to keep the ones they were used to. “We initially intended to use only one vendor,” she says. “But at the end of the day, the different business units had their Preferences.”
Research in Motion Operating Results*
*Fiscal Year Ended March 4, 2006; Feb. 26, 2005; and Feb. 28, 2004
Total assets – $2.31B
Stockholders’ equity – $2.00B
Cash and equivalents – $459.54M
Short-term investments – $175.55M
Long-term debt – $6.85M
Shares outstanding – 188.91M
Market value, 4/20 – $14.16B
** AS OF MARCH 4, 2006, EXCEPT AS NOTED