RIM is officially launching BlackBerry 10 next month at a special event, with devices scheduled to go on sale a little after that, but select customers will get a chance to test the platform more extensively before that. The company announced today that certain government and enterprise customers will now begin beta testing BlackBerry Enterprise Service 10, along with pre-production BB10 smartphones, in a program including 120 customers across different industries.
This is like an extended version of RIM's BlackBerry 10 Ready Program, but with much less of a promotional aim. Instead, it seems focused on making sure that RIM's top-tier clients (the pool includes 64 companies from the Fortune 500) know what they're getting into with BlackBerry 10. The changes in the platform are significant, after all, and while they're almost all changes for the better, in my opinion based on my hands-on time with the mobile OS, they'll still require an adjustment period for enterprise customers used to the old way of doing things.
As part of the program, RIM notes that its customers will be able to get “first-hand experience with features such as BlackBerry Balance, the BlackBerry Hub, the ability to seamlessly flow between core applications, the dedicated enterprise app store and the BlackBerry 10 platform's secure connectivity to behind the firewall applications and data through BlackBerry Enterprise Service 10.” That may sound like so much marketing speak, but in fact those elements listed are the key differences between BB10 and BB7, and the ones that will take the most adjustment. I've also heard anecdotally that many enterprise customers are actually incredibly interested in the Balance feature, which separates out work content in a siloed, firewalled portion of the OS that's nonetheless easy for a user with the requisite security clearance to access and switch between, so this will be a chance for those users to see how it actually operates in practice before making a large-scale commitment to the platform.
The bottom line is that making sure its enterprise customers are on board with BB10 is and should be a top priority for the smartphone maker, and having a seed program to introduce them to it before its wider launch both indicates a confidence in BB10′s ability to perform in real world situations, and an acknowledgement that this is something new that customers will need time to become accustomed to.