RIM hedges PlayBook bets with iOS and Android BES

Research In Motion has announced the acquisition of mobile security firm ubitexx - and in doing so cast a shadow of doubt over its plans for the business-centric PlayBook tablet.

The company's acquisition of ubitexx and its ubi-Suite security technology for an undisclosed sum will, the company has announced, be used to add support for third-party devices into its BlackBerry Enterprise Solution - specifically, Android and iOS based smartphones and tablets.

The idea is that businesses will be able to manage all their mobile devices from a single central management console, with most of the major operating systems supported - with the glaringly obvious exception of Windows Mobile, a clear tip of the hat to the fact that RIM is aiming for tablet, rather than smartphone, users with this latest move.

"The multi-platform BlackBerry Enterprise Solution is designed to address a growing market and respond to requests from enterprise customers who want a secure multi-platform device management solution," RIM's vice president of communications platforms Peter Devenyi claimed in today's announcement. "We recognize the opportunity to continue leading in the enterprise market by providing customers with a common platform to help simplify the management of a variety of mobile devices."

Reading between the lines of Devenyi's announcement, however, reveals a staggering admission: even RIM isn't sure that the upcoming PlayBook tablet will succeed - and given the poor early reviews the tablet has received, that's not as daft as it sounds.

Designed, despite its fun moniker, for enterprise users, RIM has made much of the integrated encryption, security, and remote management capabilities of its QNX-based PlayBook - to the point of mocking rival iOS and Android devices as being entirely unsuitable for serious enterprise use. The addition of iOS and Android support to BES, however, changes that dramatically.

RIM's announcement outlines its plan to create a single platform from which administrators can distribute software, manage policies, take inventory, lock or even wipe devices that have been lost or stolen, reset passwords, and manage mobile settings whether the target device is a PlayBook, a Galaxy Tab, or an iPad 2 - and that's not something the company would consider doing if it were truly confident of the reception the PlayBook will receive.

While RIM takes care to point out that "certain features are expected to remain exclusive to BlackBerry devices," including the much-vaunted push notification technology, the core security benefits of BES will now be available to all - and while that's a major win for RIM's BES division, it could come at a cost to the company's efforts to sell the PlayBook.