99 posts categorized "Market Leaders"

05/23/2014

Google Acquires Divide to Enhance Android’s Enterprise Cred

Google made headlines earlier this week by finalizing an acquisition of Divide (formerly Enterproid); a company specializing in the internalization of a work container within an employee’s personal smartphone.Google has planned to incorporate the Divide feature to future Android releases, thereby strengthening the platforms’ enterprise capabilities as a whole. The acquisition will impact the ecosystem of vendors focusing on mobility management for the enterprise, and will give HW OEMs that compete with Samsung an opportunity to offer a well-integrated containerization solution along with their hardware. The move by Google also portends to a more strategic focus (albeit late) on the enterprise market.

Similar to other popular containerization solutions, Divide’s secure workspace separates employees’ personal and business use on an individual smartphone while simultaneously preserving the experience that users expect. Container solutions such as Divide offer an elegant way to give users the ability to use their device the way they are accustomed to without the threat of privacy issues, and more importantly, give IT administrators flexible and powerful tools for administrative oversight as well as granular policy control for their corporate data and applications.

Is Android Finally Ready for the Enterprise?

Does this mean that Android is now completely enterprise-friendly? The move certainly strengthens the platform’s viability, particularly when considering the enterprise capabilities that have been integrated into the most recent Android releases (Jellybean and KitKat). Additionally, depending on how Google decides to integrate Divide and how easy OEMs can customize it, Divide will potentially give HW OEMs new ways to approach business customers. With Apple’s recent production of iOS7, Apple could fill the enterprise mobility void left by BlackBerry. With no major fragmentation concerns (~80% of iOS users are on iOS7), Apple’s walled-garden approach and its reputation for proactive responses to malware threats has served it well. While Apple was dragged into the enterprise, it has clearly been embraced by large organizations and accepted as a secure mobile platform. EMM and mobile security vendors have created very powerful solutions that have made Android a very secure platform – however, without these third-party solutions, the platform would not be gaining the traction in enterprise settings that we have seen since the 4.2 release.

Android_for_biz

The Debate will Persist – To Secure the Device and/or the Data

Containerization, unfortunately, is not a black-and-white solution. Although it can potentially allow for more employee privacy through less IT supervision, containerization can easily be described as an incomplete solution (depending on the use case). While containerization solutions separate applications and data between personal and corporate use, they do not provide the enhanced security, granular policy controls, asset management functions, or provisioning capabilities that an integrated solution from an EMM vendor can provide. However, containerization and app virtualization (a topic for a future blog) are changing the dynamics of the competitive landscape. We expect the “securing the data vs. the device” debate to persist – but we see containerization as only one element of the holistic enterprise solution (one that will not replace MDM, but add to it).

Everyone Has a Container – Can Divide be the De Facto Android Container?

Containerization has become a central solution component to almost every vendor participating in the enterprise mobility market. AT&T’s Toggle, BlackBerry’s Balance (both powered by OpenPeak), Excitor, Fixmo, Good, and Samsung (KNOX), along with almost every EMM vendor, have all incorporated containerization into their solution portfolios. While these vendors can all “play” in the iOS ecosystem, Android has been the platform of choice on which to differentiate. With its acquisition of Divide, Google may have an opportunity to make Divide the de facto containerization solution for Android (if HW OEMs play ball). We anticipate that Divide will be integrated into future Android releases, and we will be carefully watching if and how Google “opens up” the Divide platform. Samsung has been masterful in attracting enterprise-oriented vendors to work with its KNOX platform – while KNOX has been slow to take off; aggressive marketing and extensive media coverage have made Samsung the most visible enterprise-grade handset OEM. To its credit, Samsung has integrated and co-opted Android and effectively has made it an extension of its hardware by incorporating significant device-side capabilities at the chipset level. HW OEMs that compete with Samsung will need to do the same, and Google has an opportunity to enable them to do so. Google’s acquisition of Divide is an important and necessary step forward if the company wants to further its enterprise strategy – however, it is just one step.

(Research and contributions by Natalie Buckner)

05/05/2014

Event Recap ― IBM Impact

VDC had the opportunity to attend IBM’s Impact event in Las Vegas last week ― the event was well attended (~9,000 attendees) and featured hundreds of breakout sessions that spanned a broad range of technologies. A key theme at the event was what the company described as its ability to help companies become “composable businesses”.

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The company's keynote speakers were very much in sync with this message and articulated how IBM was positioned to provide its customers with a path to transform their business and help them embrace the “ecosystem of everything.” Throughout Impact, IBM showcased how it had expanded its portfolio of cloud-oriented solutions with analytics, big data and mobile solutions and how customers could benefit from the ecosystem of innovation it has assembled. The company's message: it can provide the flexibility and speed that are required to overcome the challenges which every business will ultimately face as the shift to digital services impacts their IT infrastructure. This building block approach will enable customers to piece together what’s needed quickly and effectively to solve rapidly changing business problems. IBM identifies four service types in this environment:

  • Infrastructure services such as those from Softlayer
  • Business services in the more general SaaS portfolio
  • Defined pattern services such as its PureApplication services
  • Composable services (PaaS) such as BlueMix

MobileFirst and Customers Front and Center

IBM's MobileFirst GM Marie Wieck talked about design thinking, and the need to train development teams to think first about engaging with mobile. She identified several success factors for mobile enablement that were on point:

  • Mobile interactions will increasingly transition to mobile transactions
  • Must support secure, effective, real-time transactions not just interactions
  • Not just mobile analytics, also customer analytics
  • Use mobile analytics to improve outcomes whenever possible
  • Must be iterative and rapidly evolve applications
  • Business rules are required to iterate business logic

There were some great examples of mobile enablement scenarios which featured prominent customers and partners that tied well to Wieck’s success factors. Tangerine Bank discussed how they use technology to redefine and simplify banking for their customers. Tangerine shared details on how it has raised the bar in mobile banking and has transformed into a mobile-first bank (key product enhancements mentioned were voice activation and offline access).  In working with IBM, the company was able to shorten its mobile development cycle using IBM's PureApplication System. Tangerine was able to quickly develop, test and deploy repeatable patterns, access the Worklight programming environment, use Bluemix for testing and QA, and take advantage of the API catalog to manage their internal services.

IBM's SVP of Software and Cloud Solutions Robert LeBlanc cited Tangerine as an example of the shift to a completely digital economy where companies are increasingly using mobile and cloud for computing, unbundling their business offerings and where new “killer apps” have the potential to disrupt any industry.

In this vein, IBM made sure that the most visible announcement out of Impact was its marketplace. The company has curated a site that is designed to pull IBM and third party services into solutions to help customers easily find them. Solutions range from standard business, development and operational services (new SaaS and composable services on BlueMix and Softlayer will be a focus going forward). This capability was required when considering the new style of purchasing that many companies are starting to engage in, and gives IBM a mechanism to help its partners gain influence.

Still a Long Road for Many to True Mobile Enablement

IBM was also intent on demonstrating that its products can work well together, and how it can transition organizations from legacy data centers to a modern IT architecture. The company spoke about how it is beginning to see evidence within its larger customers that mobility is becoming more strategic with more senior sponsors getting involved (something that we’ve all been waiting to see). In response, IBM has taken a managed services approach to best position themselves to help quickly (a wise move given the company's Global Services capabilities). The company has also been focused on training its business process consultants and partners on its MobileFirst solution portfolio to make sure that process solutions are being mobilized if and when the opportunity presents itself. IBM's industry specific Ready Apps were also showcased ― these starter kits will be useful and can definitely help customers accelerate their mobile enablement initiatives.

While many organizations are certainly striving to modernize their infrastructure and are in the process of iterating and re-architecting their business processes the reality is that logistics networks, supplier relationships, product and service design and customer service have and will continue to be in a state of flux. Any path to sustainable competitive advantage will require a high degree of operational adaptability. IBM certainly has assembled a portfolio of products and services that can help, but engraining mobile solutions into their workflows and business processes will take time, and getting key stakeholders within lines of business, IT leaders and developers to collaborate is difficult.

IBM has enhanced its opportunity in the enterprise with its MobileFirst initiative, with key acquisitions (Cloudant, Fiberlink, SoftLayer, and Worklight) figuring prominantly; however, significant integration work remains. IBM must demonstrate to its customers that it can help to simplify and streamline app development by mobilizing existing apps (backend integration) and help to build next generation apps.

04/16/2014

Zebra Goes All-In to Become AIDC Powerhouse

MSI’s enterprise business unit opens the door to broader client base and diversified offerings

Yesterday, Zebra Technologies announced the purchase of Motorola Solutions’ Enterprise business for $3.45 billion.  The acquisition will provide Zebra with the opportunity to access new technology markets in addition to extending its geographical reach and serving 95% of Fortune 500 companies worldwide. More importantly, however, the purchase will broaden Zebra’s product and service portfolio to encompass nearly all areas of data capture and asset tracking, from barcode printing to scanning solutions, mobile computing, and software.

Currently, Zebra is the leading barcode printer vendor with a considerable margin over the competition in global market share for a market that is over $1 billion in size. However, as we mentioned in VDC’s Auto ID and Data Capture blog in February, the company has experienced a flattening of revenues in its core businesses and has been looking to innovate and expand their global presence through new avenues and acquisitions.

A bold but risky move

Although the deal makes sense from a strategic point of view, the financial side underscores the magnitude of the deal; of the $3.45 billion, only $200 million comes from Zebra’s cash on hand, with the rest coming from new debt, as the firm currently carries none. Motorola Solutions’ earnings for its enterprise business far outstrip those of Zebra, with earnings of $2.5 billion versus $1 billion for Zebra.

VDC considers this to be a very interesting move by Zebra Technologies, particularly as the company is taking on an entity that is much bigger than itself. While we fully expect integration to be a long, drawn-out process, with an additional base of 4,500 employees worldwide and entry into several brand-new data capture technology markets, each with their unique nuances, this deal gives them access to a strong customer base, especially in the Retail vertical — an area of growing focus for Zebra. At the same time, however, VDC remains skeptical about Zebra’s ability to turn around Motorola Solutions’ struggling enterprise business sales given the onslaught of consumer devices and growing threat to incumbents from low-cost competitors.

VDC will be taking an in-depth look at the ramifications of the acquisition in a report next week by Richa Gupta, VDC’s Senior Analyst in the AutoID and Data Capture practice, and EVP David Krebs.  

(with contribution from Richa Gupta)

 

04/11/2014

IBM Steps up Competition with MobileFirst Initiative

This week, IBM announced the expansion of its MobileFirst Consulting Services, its mobile solution portfolio launched in 2013 to streamline and accelerate enterprise mobile adoption. The announcement highlighted eight services designed to solidify mobile infrastructure consulting, mobile application management, and mobile device procurement and management services.  With this, IBM is further expanding its reach within a market that has matured and consolidated considerably within the past year.

IBM paves the way to go big with mobile solutions

IBM has made significant strides to increase the scope of its services, increasingly eschewing hardware in favor of applications and services and bolstering its already strong presence in the cloud. The firm’s acquisition of Fiberlink in November of last year came as no surprise and will provide the opportunity for IBM to be a significant player in their mobile infrastructure consulting services space. As early as 2012, VDC blogged that the roster of vendors offering EMM solutions would likely broaden to include a spectrum of technology-oriented vendors including hardware OEMs. Fiberlink, a mobile-first MDM vendor, was a smart and necessary acquisition if IBM wants to become a leader of MDM consulting services. In light of the tech giant’s recent activity, we believe that IBM is in a position to put programs in place to enable partners to sell its MobileFirst platform both as a managed service and on an a la carte basis. Given IBM’s resources and brand recognition, VDC feels it’s only a matter of time before IBM launches a large-scale marketing campaign to fully leverage its position and kick the competition into high gear.

Let the mobile hunger games begin

Recent activity in the mobile solutions market underscores how the sector is more competitive than ever. Wave after wave of acquisition have mostly cleared the way for larger companies, who are increasingly feeling the pressure to perform either on price or innovation. Following IBM’s acquisition of Fiberlink, VMware’s January acquisition of AirWatch and the much-anticipated entrance of Microsoft with its EMM solution offering announced at its Build event last week shows that the stakes are higher than ever. While these acquisitions provide the means to offer a broad portfolio of solutions, integrating these vendors quickly and efficiently is still critical.  

Those who have survived the acquisitions are digging in their heels for the long run: just last week, MobileIron filed its S1 in anticipation of going public and Good Technology isn’t far behind as it moves towards its own S1. The filings show a proven business model and investor confidence, but competition will still be high as IBM expands its reach and other large firms like Oracle and Dell enter the space. The market has matured at a lightning pace, with smaller and larger firms alike experiencing compressed timeframes as ever-larger companies enter the ring. 

(Reserach and contributions by Eric Klein and Katelyn Moroney)

04/02/2014

VDC Research Releases Results of its Quarterly Rugged Device Tracker

This week, VDC published the results of its quarterly device tracker, which follows both quarter-on-quarter and year-on-year numbers for major OEMs both globally and by region. 

Notebooks lag behind other form factors

The rugged market – including notebooks, tablets, handheld computers and forklift terminals – reached $4.1bn in 2013, a 6.1% year-on-year decline from a total of $4.3bn in revenues from 2012. Excluding notebooks the market increased by 1% over 2012. The strongest performing category was rugged tablets which grew by 22% year over year. The impact of consumer-grade smartphones and tablets being used in an enterprise setting continues to make itself felt on a global level, particularly among field mobile workers and for customer-facing applications.

Q4 continues the upward trend

Performance in Q4 2013 built on the improvements in market conditions we began to witness during the second half of 2013. During Q4 2014, year over year rugged mobile vendor revenues declined by 1%. Excluding rugged notebooks, the market grew by 4.2%. Performance during Q4 2013 was lead by the rugged tablet and forklift segments which grew by 31.6% and 13.1% respectively.

Quarterly tracker chart 2Android and Windows Embedded Handheld 8.1 present 2014 growth opportunities 

“The rugged mobile market is expected to continue to stabilize in 2014 and provide moderate to strong growth opportunities. We expect a stronger retail segment and improvements to investments in North America, which has recently lagged EMEA in performance,” states Kathryn Nassberg, an analyst for VDC. Continued strength in the rugged tablet segment, improved support and availability of rugged Android handheld and tablet offerings along with first generation rugged handheld Windows Embedded Handheld 8.1 will fuel much of the 2014 opportunities However, headwinds and downside risk clearly still exist, especially in the form of adoption of lower cost consumer mobile devices and overall access to capital. 

For more information, click here

For a copy of the report, please email info@vdcresearch.com

 

 

03/17/2014

BlackBerry’s Uphill Battle to Regain Enterprise Confidence

It’s no secret that BlackBerry is working to maintain its relevance in enterprise mobility. CEO John Chen emphasized just last month at Mobile World Congress that the firm had engineered a new strategy to restore customer’s confidence in BlackBerry. Both in Barcelona and at a meeting with analysts in January, Chen has stressed the relationship with enterprise as central to the company’s strategy and success. Potential revenue enhancing opportunities have emerged, such as the news that the company intends to support the Windows Phone platform with its upcoming BES 12 release (BBM support for the Windows Phone platform was also disclosed), and the announcement that Ford will be using the company’s QNX platform for its next-generation Sync system—however, while these initiatives have potential, we see the company’s reluctance to abandon its hardware orientation as hurting its long term prospects. While there remains a window of opportunity to maintain relevance with a device centric strategy (The firm made a wise choice by partnering with Foxconn to defray the downside of its unsustainable (and unprofitable) manufacturing operations), we believe the upcoming Z3 (low end consumer device) and Q20 (a QWERTY keyboard sporting enterprise-grade smartphone) are the company’s last chance. This is primarily due to the fact that there is a marked loss in mindshare with enterprise customers—according a recent VDC survey, the lack of confidence is quite stark.

Forecast is Gloomy

Our survey showed that BlackBerry’s support among larger enterprises (organizations with greater than $500M in annual revenues) has continued to has lose ground to both the Apple and Android platforms. BlackBerry also lagged significantly and was the least-supported OS, both among BYOD and enterprise-issued devices according to our study. When asked point-blank about their likelihood in investing in BlackBerry, the same companies showed a marked level of ambivalence:

Blog_graphic_31714

While Apple and Android are the dominant mobile platforms in the enterprise, we believe that there is room for a third ecosystem—particularly one with enterprise-grade capabilities.

Need for Speed

While the new Z3 and Q20 devices are slated for later this year, BlackBerry needs to move quickly as new devices such as Samsung’s S5 (April) and Apple’s iPhone 6 (September?) are fast approaching. Both are high-end devices and feature notable enterprise-grade enhancements that will be difficult to match.  In the meantime, the company should continue to enhance its focus on its BYOD management solutions—else, the road ahead will continue to be long and increasingy uphill.

(Research and written contribution by Kathryn Nassberg)

03/07/2014

Apple moves to open up enterprise IT channels

Taking a more enterprise-friendly approach

Apple may have reinforced its lead ahead of Android in the enterprise market with the announcement this week of its new program to facilitate enterprise usage of iOS on a larger scale. Among the biggest changes is the Device Enrollment Program, which frees IT from the previous constraints of Apple Configurator of having to physically interact with the devices individually via USB to configure them for MDM in what the firm is calling a “zero-touch effort for IT.” The enrollment program also solves a critical requirement for corporate-owned, personally enabled (COPE) devices, as IT can now install non-removable MDM profiles. This had previously been a source of concern for IT, as users could remove MDM elements from their iOS devices. In addition to an over-the-air approach that lends itself better to a COPE-style of mobile deployment, Apple has also gained a significant enterprise edge by changing its volume purchase and licensing programs to enable businesses to purchase apps in bulk without the need of a credit card. 

Other changes with the rollout of the Device Enrollment Program lend themselves particularly well for scalable deployment. Among these is the elimination of staging and provisioning processes, which in turn streamlines the process of deployment, as devices can be directly sent to end-users. Additionally, the program moves device enrollment into MDM as part of the setup process, simplifying the enrollment process for employees. All these create a powerful enterprise advantage, especially when paired with the recent changes to its volume purchase program.

The changes are well in line with Tim Cook’s focus on keeping Apple front and center in the enterprise arena. In last month’s quarterly phone call with analysts, the CEO noted that “the enterprise area has huge potential,” citing high percentages of global Fortune 500 companies that use their devices. With the recent FIPS 140-2 certification from the federal government, it stands to reason that the company will continue to integrate enterprise and security as core elements of its product strategy.

Apple’s priorities are still with the consumer

While it’s true that Apple is making considerable progress in taking enterprise concerns into consideration as a more central element in its product development, the fact of the matter is that, at the end of the day, its devices are first and foremost a consumer good. We see these limitations in areas such as OS upgrades and Apple ID. Currently, Apple ID is linked very closely with individual accounts, and while it is possible to create more than one ID per person, this can often become cumbersome given the nature of the ID. As a result, this limits businesses’ ability to share devices and can make COPE somewhat more problematic.

Other issues remain surrounding lifecycle support and control of upgrades. This was certainly the case for iOS7, in that many apps and services became non-compliant with the upgrade. Many firms found that their applications were not ready and had to rely on requesting that employees not upgrade their OS. The lack of control over the timing of upgrades, as well as lifecycle support will remain stumbling blocks for enterprises that are looking to deploy Apple devices as part of their line-of-business mobility strategy.

No longer afraid to use the “e” word

Even though Apple’s priorities remain with consumers, the company is definitely maneuvering into a more explicit relationship with enterprise. By timing its announcements to align with last week’s Mobile World Congress, Apple is definitely presenting a considerable challenge to the competition on the enterprise front. So far, Apple has been able to maintain a considerable market share in this arena primarily through its consumer appeal alone; now that the firm is actively taking enterprise into consideration in product development strategy, Android competitors like Samsung are going to have their work cut out for them to increase their foothold. Meanwhile, Microsoft and BlackBerry are going to have to work all the harder to maintain market share. 

02/28/2014

Unpacking Samsung’s MWC – Enterprise Implications

VDC met with Samsung at Mobile World Congress this week in Barcelona to discuss the company’s take on enterprise mobility as it announced the launch of the much-anticipated Galaxy S5. The smartphone, with its IP-67 rating for dust and water resistance is the second in Samsung’s lineup for a more ruggedized consumer device after the S4 Active. The latest product in the Galaxy family is leading the trend towards more durable, enterprise-oriented smartphones that continue to blur the line between consumer and enterprise devices that will only turn up the heat further on ruggedized OEMs, who are facing increased competition from their consumer-grade counterparts. In addition to a more ruggedized build, the S5 boats other enterprise-friendly security features such as two-factor authentication that incorporates both password and biometric verification, and the inclusion of its KNOX mobile security solution.

Refining mobile device management with KNOX 2.0

Although KNOX was originally announced at last year’s Mobile World Congress and launched in October of last year, Samsung has brought the security solution back into the headlines with the software’s second iteration as KNOX 2.0, which boasts a compliment of features like cloud-based enterprise mobility management (EMM) targeted at SMBs, a dedicated Knox Marketplace for enterprise applications, and support for third-party containers, such as Good Technology, MobileIron and Fixmo. While the newest version of the solution does not require applications to be wrapped (due to kernel enhancements) in order to work with KNOX, we wonder whether apps will need to be modified in order to work, and whether this could pose a potential problem for Samsung down the road.

As of yet, the activation rate remains modest, with 1 million user activations to date out of the 25 million devices that feature KNOX capabilities on the market today, although the manufacturer revealed to the media that it now see a monthly activation rate 210,000 devices. KNOX 2.0 firmly underscores Samsung’s belief in the solution’s potential in an enterprise setting, as the firm currently has 2,000 engineers working on KNOX and has partnered with 42 carriers globally to provide the solution.

Building a greater service presence

While Samsung has made considerable inroads into enterprise mobility with its hardware and MDM solutions, there are still considerable gaps on the service side that will need to be addressed, especially in looking to service Tier-1, multinational firms. Samsung has handily proven that it has the hardware capabilities to be successful with consumers, but to truly be successful in the quest to become more enterprise-friendly, it will need to get closer to clients. This is not to say that Samsung should build out direct sales; rather, the firm needs to establish a more direct relationship, both with partners and with end-users. In this vein, Samsung has had some early success; the company has been working closely with DMI on the massive DISA contact, and is expected to provide new details on the program’s expansion soon. Earlier this week Samsung revealed that it has entered into a strategic alliance with GEMA who continues to draw important partners into is ranks. While these relationships have put Samsung in a strong position, the company has a target on its back. BlackBerry has stumbled, but the company continues to maintain large enterprise deployments, and is betting big on the enterprise market as a mean of survival―others such as Lenovo and Microsoft are also in hot pursuit of the enterprise market and certainly have an opportunity to challenge Samsung going forward.

02/14/2014

Rumors and Rugged Consumer Devices at Mobile World Congress

Lions and tigers and phablets, oh my!

With Mobile World Congress looming on the horizon, there has been considerable buzz surrounding the anticipated unveilings in Barcelona. The enterprise-friendly range of display sizes continues to grow, with rumors of HTC introducing a new member to its line of Desire phablets, and LG’s recent confirmation of the G Pro 2. This reinforces predictions of phablet use to grow significantly in 2014, particularly within business environments. The increased focus on mobile devices in a data-centric setting and desire for larger screens could help bolster the form factor’s popularity, despite its unwieldy size and ungainly nomenclature.

 “Samdroid” continues its enterprise push

Other anticipated launches include Samsung’s Galaxy S5, which could help the firm make further inroads into a predominantly Apple-dominated enterprise setting.  Nokia has also garnered considerable attention with talk of the Nokia X being launched at MWC. Leaked images of the Android OS featuring Windows 8-style tiles has people both intrigued and confused, especially given its new relationship with Microsoft. The device also raises questions as to the possibility of devices capable of running on multiple platforms, which could potentially be alluring in enterprise setting, particularly for BYOD.

Smartphones get tough

Meanwhile, VDC is keeping an eye on manufacturers like Kyocera and Sonim, who are making inroads into the consumerization of ruggedized features that have traditionally been associated with specialized enterprise devices. As price points continue to drop, this could pave the way for consumer-grade devices that boast greater levels of ruggedness and environmental protection, particularly in regards to water-resistance. While current options for non-enterprise rugged smartphones are limited, announcements from MWC could well herald a shift towards more durable consumer devices and create an upset among more traditional rugged manufacturers.

Big changes on the horizon

While VDC anticipates announcements at Mobile World Congress to highlight the continued development of devices that are increasingly enterprise-capable both in regards to performance and form factor, we nevertheless believe that the truly disruptive technologies are still on the horizon. Right now technology such as flexible displays and wearable devices are in their infancy, and have generated significant buzz, but current pricing and a lack of widespread practical applications have meant that they are primarily in a proof-of-concept stage. If the technology is able to move beyond this and gain more widespread acceptance, it has the potential to revolutionize the mobile device market…just not this year.

01/31/2014

Large-scale Deployments Increase Growth Potential for BLE, iBeacon

Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology is poised to revolutionize consumer in-store experience in 2014, further augmenting already existing mobile retail applications. VDC research from last year revealed that 23% of retail organizations had rolled out mobile applications to supplement their current in-store services, and that an additional 42% planned to deploy mobile applications in 2014. BLE technology, like that of Apple’s iBeacon, strives to address this gap with increased location and engagement services by allowing devices to communicate directly with one another.

A cheaper, more precise way to engage consumers

BLE represents a drastic improvement from existing solutions like Near Field Communication (NFC) and GPS-based geo-location. Bluetooth beacons eliminate the need for close proximity for interaction between devices by vastly increasing the data transfer range from the current distance of 8 inches to 150 feet, and at a much reduced cost. Additionally, BLE has a greater potential consumer reach, as all mobile devices come equipped with Bluetooth capabilities, instead of requiring a specific installation, as is the case for NFC. The greater range and improved precision also allows for retail stores to use micro-triangulation services in-store to improve both analytical capabilities and in-store promotions, creating endless opportunities for personalized marketing strategies on an individual level. Consumers who opt in will be able to view information such as reward points, daily deals, and history of purchases upon entering a given store. Such interactions have the potential to increase both consumer spend per visit and overall brand loyalty.  As of January 2014, a handful of companies have begun trial runs for BLE technology, with Macy’s, American Eagle Outfitters, and Safeway Supermarkets all running iBeacon in select stores across the US.

iBeacon goes mobile

Other companies are looking to take the new technology out of the store and onto the road. This week, smart driving assistant maker Automatic announced its device, which plugs directly into a car’s data port will now support iBeacon, representing one of the largest BLE beacon deployments to date. Automatic speculates the roll out will transform the traditional iBeacon retail framework to provide their users with similar automotive services such as pay for parking, gas, or automatic alerts as they drive. If successful, this could help pave the way for greater integration of BLE as a payment solution, boosting acceptance for other POS solutions, like that of PayPal, which was announced in September of last year, but has yet to gain widespread adoption.   

BLE is lucrative, but barriers remain

While many of the advantages that BLE offers revolve around its energy efficiency and potential reach, these strengths are tempered by existing barriers to adoption. Although the energy requirements for businesses deploying BLE are low thanks to its design (the technology can run on coin-cell batteries for months or even years), this is not the case for mobile device users, who frequently keep their Bluetooth capabilities switched off to conserve battery life. VDC estimates that only small fraction of device users keep theirs switched on. Another barrier is the limited access for Android devices and even Apple devices to a certain extent. BLE’s current reach within the Android ecosystem is severely limited (the technology requires Android 4+) and Apple’s reach is not as pervasive as believed: only iOS devices from the 4S generation have the same capabilities. However, with the imminent launch of Android-based Datzing as an Apple competitor that can function on older phones, Android’s present gap in this market could narrow significantly in the year to come. Barriers also remain on the enterprise side, as BLE in its current incarnation requires individual apps. Currently, there is no central iPhone app to interact with retail beacons using iBeacon. For businesses that already have mobile apps, this presents less of a limitation, as the functionality can be added, but for firms, a dedicated app will need to be designed to capture the benefits of the new technology.

Privacy remains a primary conern

One of the remaining hurdles that BLE technology will need to overcome is the most pressing of them all: that of privacy. Right now, beacon technology is based on company-specific applications that require opting in. However, the question remains whether, despite the current opt-in setup,  users will want businesses to know their every step and whether payment software can be trusted to charge the correct amount to a customer’s  credit card. More importantly, the issue remains as to whether BLE can succeed given the current environment in which revelations of security breaches like that of Target are becoming increasingly prevalent. Additionally, there are growing concerns surrounding data collection and overall privacy that many companies will need to address in order to allay consumer fears. VDC believes that the inherent effectiveness of the technology has tremendous capacity for consumer buy-in and will likely overcome most concerns surrounding privacy and security, but firms will nevertheless have to work to earn and keep consumer trust as BLE continues to gain traction. 

 

(By Kathryn Nassberg.Research and written contribution by Katelyn Moroney, Research Intern for Mobile and Wireless)