iPhone 5 vs BlackBerry is the wrong discussion

A major U.S. agency says it’s making a big switch in mobile devices, but in a BYOD era, does it really matter?

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It takes a special kind of breakup to generate worldwide headlines. A celebrity marriage that ends in divorce will do the trick. So will the trade of an all-star athlete from a pro-sports team. Then there are the large organizations that decide to part with their BlackBerry devices.

From the moment someone noticed a mention in the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) procurement request that it was switching to the iPhone 5, the story was treated as further evidence of Research In Motion’s almost impossibly uphill battle to regain its competitive position in the smartphone sector. Apart from a vague statement that the BlackBerry devices were “failing both at inopportune times and at an unacceptable rate” (as though there are opportune times and acceptable rates for outages), the NTSB has offered no details of the problems that drove its decision. Minds have been made up, and a big switch is about to happen. Except that the big switch already started happening in little increments more than a year ago.

I’m willing to bet that many of the 400 NTSB employees were already quietly moving onto the iPhone, as well as Android devices, long before its management started to discuss alternatives. Consumers are driving these decisions, and if management teams get interested in such things at all it’s the prospect of saving money by not having to officially issue anything. They soon find out, however, that the choice of device matters far less than the underlying network and applications that support it. Devices are the receptacles of software and tools that knowledge workers are using to be more connected and productive, and apart from security concerns around Android, the base features and functionality required by most organizations makes them more or less interchangeable. That’s why other organizations are welcoming a more diverse mix than the BlackBerry alone, either through what’s issued or what’s supported under bring your own device (BYOD) programs. RIM’s marketing battle in 2013 will be largely among consumers and carriers, not corporations.

IT departments should therefore treat scandalous reports of BlackBerry defections with a grain of salt. What’s more important than a particular brand is whether you have the right coverage to support whatever devices are running corporate e-mail and applications. If outages prove inopportune or unacceptable, the backup and recovery plan should be in place to support business continuity at all times. More important is how you’re evolving the organization’s use of telephony and seizing the potential of advanced IP communications.

The NTSB said it chose the iPhone 5 in part because it’s the only one its staff can support, which is ridiculous if they had only been trained in supporting BlackBerry smartphones and, presumably, a BlackBerry Enterprise Server in the past. Better to be prepared to support a mix of almost anything, consumer/employee preferences are fickle. Some might be lured by Windows Phone 8. When RIM launches its new devices on January 30, we might yet see a comeback, and then what happens at the NTSB? Like others who have jumped off the BlackBerry bandwagon, they may find to their dismay that breaking up is hard to do.

Read about how Allstream has tackled BYOD internally by downloading our free executive brief.

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