RIM Zeroes In On Separation Of Work And Play In BlackBerry OS 10: Will That Fly With The BYOD Generation?

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On stage at CTIA’s MobileCon keynote today, RIM’s Jeff Gadway gave an on-stage demo of the upcoming BlackBerry 10 operating system. It wasn’t any more revealing than what we’ve already seen from RIM on stage at their own developer conference events (and in Natasha’s preview earlier today), but it did emphasize that RIM’s goal with BB10 is to provide something for everyone: a social, entertainment platform for consumers and a secure, data-safe environment to make IT managers happy. But can a mobile OS these days have its cake and eat it, too, in the way RIM envisions?

BlackBerry 10 is designed around the Balance concept, that provides essentially two different software environments depending on whether you’re logged in and authorized to use a device in a professional capacity or not. Data is segregated between these environments; Gadway noted on stage that you can’t copy and paste info from data from one into the other, and he showed how apps like the on-device photo gallery don’t share content between the two distinct environments. Likewise, there’s App World for Work, a special enterprise-specific version of BlackBerry’s mobile application marketplace that can serve only apps hosted on a company’s own servers, or provide access to certain white-listed apps selected or made mandatory by the user’s employer.

Lest that sound a little onerous in terms of providing a unified communications platform, Gadway pointed out that BB10 still unites key elements that make sense housed together, like email and messaging communications. You still have to authorize to view content from one vs. the other, but they all live in the same place. Overall, though, the focus is on data segregation, and on limiting access to apps. The challenge this presents is that instead of being an answer to the BYOD problem that satisfies both IT departments eager to regain control and users looking for freedom, this could just push people to look for platforms where easy access to the consumer apps they’ve come to depend upon.

Consumers began practicing BYOD precisely because they wanted easy access to their data; the ability to quickly drop something in Dropbox and share it on a device where they controlled software loadout is in part what led to Dropbox’s rapid enterprise use. Building a mobile system that could in theory lock out access to those tools even though the information in question is actually on the device, albeit siloed on the personal side of things, seems like an inhibition of freedom, not a move towards more employee-choice driven adoption of mobile work tools.

It may be too early to tell, but it looks like what RIM is providing with BlackBerry 10 could lead to frustration on the user side, rather than an overabundance of choice. It may be that this still represents the best possible balance for IT departments looking to rein in the risks of BYOD, but I think the question of how a segregated (but unified) approach to mobile will sit with users remains to be seen.