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BlackBerry maker Research In Motion (RIM-T) is seeking to cash in as companies switch to rival smartphones with a new tool that offers some of its important security features for sexier devices like the iPhone.
The company said on Tuesday that it will launch its new Mobile Fusion device management software in the first quarter, allowing corporate IT staff to set and monitor rules for passwords, apps and software on a range of devices, including Apple's iPad and iPhone, and smartphones using Google's Android operating system.
A company can remotely lock or wipe a lost or stolen device, a key selling point for security-conscious corporations who may have been wary of shifting away from the BlackBerry.
"What our enterprise customers are looking for, and the opportunity for us, is to become the de facto platform," RIM's vice-president for enterprise product management, Alan Panezic, told Reuters in an interview ahead of the announcement.
"We will take full advantage of whatever security capabilities are provided by the core operating system. We're not going to hold that back in any way, shape or form."
RIM's BlackBerry was for years the preferred device for businesses and government agencies, who treasured its encrypted data and distributed the device to millions of workers needing secure, round-the-clock email access.
But many workers now prefer using their own Apple and Android-powered devices to access corporate emails, raising security questions for corporations that RIM hopes to address with the new software.
Mobile Fusion will sit next to existing BlackBerry Enterprise Servers (BES) behind corporate firewalls.
Panezic said the software will manage RIM's PlayBook independently from a BlackBerry after the tablet - which has yet to gain traction with either business or consumer clients - receives a long-awaiting software upgrade, due in February.
He declined to give any pricing details for the Fusion service, but said it would be "competitive" with rivals.
"It will help stem the tide of those companies that may have considered eliminating their BES but it won't help sell more phones," said Gartner analyst Phillip Redman. "That's what they really need to do."
The new software follows on from RIM's May acquisition of device management company Ubitexx, which RIM announced in May.
Smaller companies such as Good Technology, MobileIron and BoxTone already offer device management as companies fret about leakage of sensitive commercial information.
"This will definitely rattle some cages" among smaller companies, filling a niche by securing and managing iPhones and other non-BlackBerry devices for corporations, Forrester analyst Christian Kane said.
Panezic said customers had requested a solution to handle Apple and Android devices, but RIM would consider adding support for other systems, such as Microsoft's Windows Phone, if there was enough demand.