TORONTO Research In Motion on Tuesday launched software that enables its large "enterprise" customers to manage Apple and other rival devices through the same servers as they use for the BlackBerry smartphone and Playbook tablet.
The new Mobile Fusion software, first announced in November, is a recognition by RIM of a growing preference by many users inside big corporations and government to access professional communications over their personal devices, often the Apple iPhone or iPad, or devices running Google's Android.
RIM, which long dominated the so-called enterprise market, has watched the BlackBerry's market share steadily erode in recent years. Unable to arrest the trend, the company now aims to generate a fresh revenue stream from it. Mobile Fusion will cost $99 per user to license and $4 per user a month, with discounts available for bulk orders.
In a second announcement on Tuesday that highlights RIM's eroding market position, it said its PlayBook tablet now boasts 15,000 applications - still just a tiny fraction of the number available on the iPad. One of the biggest complaints about RIM's products is the dearth of content and applications.
A recent survey from Appcelerator and IDC showed less than 16 percent of developers were "very interested" in creating programs for RIM, compared with 90 percent for Apple and 80 percent for Android.
The Canadian company has sought to win over developers, and it claimed the figure announced on Tuesday was evidence of growth. RIM has more than 70,000 apps in its App World store for either BlackBerry phones or the PlayBook tablet, which compares with 200,000 iPad apps, and half a million for the iPhone.
The BlackBerry has appealed to big organizations because of the water-tight security afforded by the enterprise network. It enables businesses to control access by setting password rules, blocking or pushing access to certain applications and remotely wiping lost or stolen devices.
But that appeal has started to fade. As rival devices have grown in popularity, in part because of the wealth of apps available for them, companies have started to hire third-party management services from the likes of Good Technology and Mobile Iron to replicate the features of RIM's enterprise network. Fusion is largely RIM's response to that reality.
(Reporting by Alastair Sharp in Toronto; Editing by Frank McGurty)