Is BlackBerry Playing Rope-a-Dope?

Now that Mobile World Congress (MWC14) in Barcelona has passed I have noticed the targeted punches and strategic attacks by the leading enterprise mobility management (EMM) companies such as FiberLink’s MaaS360, Good Technology, MobileIron and AirWatch against BlackBerry.  All have refocused their punches and ring strategy on two key themes: Security and Moving-away from the BlackBerry to a multi-OS environment.

A synopsis of their recent headlines, guides and webinars include:



Airwatch by VMware:

Migrate from BlackBerry to a Secure, Multi-OS Environment

6 Steps to Migrate from BlackBerry to a Secure, Multi-OS Environment

Maas360 by Fiberlink, an IBM company:

Breaking BlackBerry: Your transition plan in 10 easy steps

Breaking BlackBerry – Surviving the Downward Spiral


Step-by-Step Guide to Blackberry Migration

Simplifying the move from BlackBerry to Multi-OS

Good Technology:

Free Migration Promotion for BlackBerry Customers

BlackBerry Migration Planning

What I have found most intriguing is the fight response or lack thereof coming from the BlackBerry corner. The best I could find is blog jab and counter punch by CEO John Chen responding to Good’s Christy Wyatt who said, “Customers were calling them because BlackBerry can’t manage other devices.” BlackBerry CEO John Chen jabbed rebutted saying,

“BlackBerry has provided multi-platform OS management for nearly 2 years now, so let’s put that to rest. Good Technology may talk about 5,000 customers but with 30,000 new BES10 servers installed in the past year alone, I’d argue that we’re the ones getting the calls from customers.”

Chen goes on to counter-punch say,

“We’re fully transparent with our customers about what they get from us; our new pricing structure is crystal clear and most importantly, unlike other companies, when we say something is free, we mean that it’s free.”

So for those of you who are either old enough, love boxing or both, I point you to one of the best boxing matches I have even seen between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman in the now infamous Rumble in the Jungle held in Kinshasa, Zaire (now Democratic Republic of the Congo) in 1974.  If you haven’t seen it, I would highly suggest watching the video.

My question is simple. Is BlackBerry playing rope-a-dope?  Rope-a-dope is a boxing fighting style and is used to describe strategies in which one party (BlackBerry?) purposely puts itself in what appears to be a losing position, attempting thereby to become the eventual victor (EMM competitors?). My imaginary boxing match comparison goes something like this (new actors in parenthesis)

In the boxing dual Foreman (EMM) was considered by many observers (pundits and ‘leading’ analysts) to be the favored to win the fight due to his superior punching power. During the match Ali (BlackBerry) purposely angered Foreman, provoking the latter to attack and force him back on the ropes (prior CEO BlackBerry strategy). At the time some observers thought that Ali was being horribly beaten (stock market) and worried that they might see him get killed in the ring (bankrupt). Writer George Plimpton described Ali’s stance as like “a man leaning out his window trying to see something on his roof.” However, far from being brutalized, Ali was relatively protected from Foreman’s blows (cash and lots global enterprise customers). Norman Mailer described the advantage of Ali’s rope-a-dope this way: “Standing on one’s feet, it is painful to absorb a heavy body punch even when blocked with one’s arm. The torso, the legs and the spine take the shock. Leaning on the ropes, however, Ali (BlackBerry) can pass it along; the rope will receive the strain.”(CEO John Chen’s new vision and plan). Ali’s preparation for the fight, which involved toughening himself up by allowing his sparring partners to pummel him (investors and market), contributed to observers’ sense that Ali was outmatched. When Foreman became tired from the beating he was delivering, Ali regrouped and ended up winning the match (Future?). Cheers to Wikipedia for helping!

Let’s be clear I’m not saying that BlackBerry doesn’t have its share of issues. Certainly, if BlackBerry takes too many blows and falls much lower than the .6% of world market share that the New York Times reported in February, the path to recovery may indeed be too long and a knockout blow. But my point is that every time BlackBerry looks like they are down and out with their back against the wall, they always seem to rebound off the ropes.

I suggest that we are in the early rounds of the fight.  My scorecard shows EMM players winning early but in the latest round BlackBerry is starting to land some solid hits. And this starts with new products. BlackBerry will release the Z3 in Indonesia. The device will have a 5-inch screen, a dual core processor, and 1.5GB of RAM and a killer intro price under $200 as well as the higher end Q20 smartphone. The Z3 and Q20 are the first products to emerge from BlackBerry’s new partnership with electronics maker Foxconn. Under that five-year agreement, Foxconn will develop and manufacture certain BlackBerry devices and manage that inventory itself, while BlackBerry focuses on software and high-end phones. BlackBerry will also offer BES trade-up licenses to woo users over from other Mobile Device Management players. BlackBerry will match those licenses for with that of BlackBerry licenses. Lastly, as reported this week there has been a big win in automotive. Ford (F) selected BlackBerry’s QNX technology to power its next-generation in-car syncing. Microsoft (MSFT) is the current provider for Ford’s information and entertainment system. QNX’s importance in automobiles received a further boost after Apple (AAPL) said in a press release that it will release CarPlay. CarPlay will be running on QNX. Vehicles from Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo will premiere CarPlay to their drivers this week. Meanwhile, additional auto manufacturers are bringing CarPlay to their drivers down the road including BMW Group, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai Motor Company, Jaguar Land Rover, Kia Motors, Mitsubishi Motors, Nissan Motor Company, PSA Peugeot Citroën, Subaru, Suzuki and Toyota Motor Corp.

So my question is simple.  Is BlackBerry playing rope-a-dope?  I’d like to hear your thoughts and ideas.  The enterprise mobility management market is hot so it’s going to be a good fight to watch.

About Ralph Rodriguez

Ralph Rodriguez is the CEO and Research Fellow of Blue Hill Research and an industry expert across cloud, mobile and security technologies. Ralph brings over 25 years of experience spanning IT management, research and entrepreneurship in a variety of executive CxO roles. Previously Rodriguez served as COO of Nucleus Research, Inc., SVP and Research Director at Aberdeen Group (NYSE:HHS), CTO of Brooks Automation (NASDAQ:BRKS), EVP-CIO of Excelon Corporation (NASDAQ:EXLN) and EVP-CIO of C-bridge Internet Solutions (NASDAQ:CBIS). Rodriguez is currently a Fellow at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and holds a Sc.D. in information systems and a graduate of the management program GPMD-MBA at IESE Business School, Barcelona Spain. Rodriguez is a veteran of the Persian Gulf War.
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