BlackBerry exec: I'd 'love' to have BBM running on a wearable

LAS VEGAS--BlackBerry (NASDAQ:BBRY) is testing wearable computing devices internally and a top company executive said he would "love" to see the firm's signature BlackBerry Messenger service running on a wearable. However, the company is not announcing any new devices.  

"We are doing some different experimentation internally with wearables," John Sims, BlackBerry's president of global enterprise services, said during a roundtable discussion with reporters here.

"I would love for BBM to be running on a wearable," he added, noting that it would likely be paired with a phone. Sims stressed that BlackBerry is not announcing or releasing any wearable product, but he said, "it's definitely an area of research for us."

That approach is in keeping with the changes that CEO John Chen has made to retool the company since taking the helm in November 2013. Chen has focused the company on four ley areas: devices, BBM, enterprise services and technology solutions, which includes BlackBerry's QNX subsidiary and Internet of Things business.

Chen said in an internal memo in August that the company had finished its three-year-long restructuring efforts, and was ready to begin hiring new employees and making strategic acquisitions. However, Sims said BlackBerry's transformation away from being a device-centric company that did not work with other platforms or mobile device management (MDM) companies is an ongoing process.

"This is a process that will go on not over one quarter or two quarters, but over the course of a couple of years," he said.

A major milestone for BlackBerry will be the launch of Blackberry Enterprise Service 12 in November, Sims said. "We're not fearful or defensive about what we need to do in the enterprise about not just managing BlackBerry devices but all of the cross-platform devices as well," he said.

For the first time, in addition to Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android and Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS devices, BES 12 will also support Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Windows Phone. The BES 12 platform will offer backward and future compatibility, unifying BES 10 and BES 5 on one platform.

To help spur adoption of BES 12, BlackBerry launched an "EZ Pass" program this spring, which lets customers trade in their licenses and move from BES and other mobile device management platforms to BES 10. For existing BlackBerry customers, the EZ Pass program matches any active existing on-premise BES license and any active license customers may have from other MDM vendors, such as AirWatch or MobileIron, with a corresponding Silver BES 10 perpetual license, though terms and conditions apply. Customers also receive free Advantage level technical support with their new license.

Sims said BlackBerry has already had 1.2 million licenses traded over and 10 percent of them were competitive licenses from companies like AirWatch.

Sims also indicated BlackBerry will be making more announcements to help IT managers handle the bring-your-own-device phenomenon and will look to provide virtual identities on phones that do more to segment and track usage for enterprise and personal uses. Indeed, on Thursday BlackBerry said it acquired Movirtu, which provides a virtual identity solution for carriers that allows multiple phone numbers to be active on a single device. With Movirtu's Virtual SIM platform, users can have both business number and a personal number on a single device, with separate billing for voice, data and messaging usage on each number. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

One other part of BlackBerry's transformation was the creation last month of a new unit called BlackBerry Technology Solutions, or BTS. The unit includes its QNX software for embedded wireless systems, its "Project Ion" Internet of Things application platform, Certicom cryptography applications and Paratek RF antenna tuning.

Sandeep Chennakeshu, who previously served as the president of Ericsson (NASDAQ: ERIC) Mobile Platforms and CTO of Sony Ericsson, leads the unit and had been working as a consultant to Chen for the better part of a year.

Chennakeshu said the IoT platform the company is working on will be focused on connecting machines and people to information and will also collect data that companies can use to take actions based on the data. He said the company wants to create a scalable and highly secure infrastructure for large-volume vertical applications such as fleet management.

The platform will also use BlackBerry's MDM capabilities to manage and secure Internet of Things devices. In one example of what the platform could potentially enable, if a car dealership wanted to collect diagnostic information from a car to monitor when it is due for service, BlackBerry could securely manage that specific car's software and coordinate the data with the dealership. Another idea Chennakeshu mentioned is that with asset tracking, the sender of a package might have access to data on where the package is but the recipient could get more granular and secure data on the contents of the shipment.

Chennakeshu did not give a timeline for when the IoT platform will launch, but noted that "before you launch the system you need to make it pretty application-hardened." BlackBerry will need to do field testing  to ensure it will be "robust enough" to handle large amounts of data and support large-scale applications.  "I want to make sure it's rock solid," he said.

For more:
- see this release
- see this Bloomberg article
- see this Reuters article

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