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BlackBerry to port key client platform features to iPhone and Android

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March 2, 2015

Today at the Mobile World Congress conference, BlackBerry said it will port key client platform features like its soft keyboard, Universal Search and Hub to iPhone and Android OSs.

The company also added it will throw those features into its enterprise software bundles as well.

That BlackBerry makes that decision today comes as no surprise to many, and it marks a huge leap along the companyís transition to a software services company.

However, CEO John Chen denied that BlackBerry was exiting the hardware business. The company has already made some of its crown jewels cross-platform, such as BBM and added others, such as its BBM Meetings scheduling service.

Today itís throwing the unified messaging client Hub, Calendar, Documents to Go, Universal Search and the distinctive software keyboard into the mix.

BlackBerry will also offer a menu of three bundles-Ė Security Suite (which includes containers, authentication services and a VPN, Communication Suite (including BBM and Meetings) and a Productivity Suite.

All require a BlackBerry server, and will only be consumer offerings if telcom firms and hosting companies begin to offer them, which isnít entirely implausible, depending to whom you talk to.

To be sure, BlackBerry's strategy of offering secure and mature software to enterprises in a world dominated by consumer-focused iPhone and Android platforms makes sense.

While the consumer hardware advances every year, the software doesnít, and lacks the maturity and security enterprises desperately need.

BlackBerry can take advantage of its unique managed network to give it an advantage. But coherent and unique, itís a crowded marketplace, and the execution will need to be perfect, something BlackBerry has never been known for.

The biggest impact is likely to be on Microsoft, which sidelined its enterprise-friendly Windows Mobile platform a few years ago, and now places its focus on a consumer replacement, Windows Phone.

Microsoft has slowly been adding those features back like VPN ever since. In 2014, BlackBerry said it had several devices in the pipeline, aimed at businesses.

John Chen has said that if it can turn a profit from the sale of 10 million devices or more, he'll be happy.

Telecom provider Comcast and a few others are firing what looks like warning shots over the FCC's historic decision yesterday, and things will probably get ugly real soon.

The FCC passed new Internet regulation yesterday that prevent network owners like AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Verizon from discriminating against what kind of traffic runs over their networks.

The news didn't surprise most in the industry since it was largely expected, and has been brewing for several years already.

Comcast has repeatedly warned that a bitter legal fight is coming, and is ramping up its legal department for a mini war with the FCC, it would appear.

"After today, the only certainty is that we all face inevitable litigation and years of regulatory uncertainty," said Comcast's executive vice president, David Cohen.

And it's very similar to the warning that AT&T has made about two weeks ago. Comcast's legal threat is real, which is why despite the cheers of victory from populist groups yesterday, the net neutrality war is far from over-- it has barely started, Comcast is suggesting.

To be sure, the FCC rules won't be official yet until maybe summertime at the earliest. That's when major telecom companies will challenge the rules in court. This will leave them ample time for a coordinated battle with the federal communications agency.

A similar legal battle is why we're in this mess now. The last time the FCC tried to protect "Open Internet" rules, Verizon sued and the agency eventually lost in federal court.

However, the FCC isn't letting go, and now Comcast made a veiled threat to cancel plans to invest in its own broadband network.

"After seeing the Order, we'll have to engage in additional internal scrutiny on what our investment plans with respect to broadband will be going forward," Cohen warned.

During Thursday's vote, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler called the telecom industry's bluff over investment, saying that companies will continue to expand despite the new net neutrality rules.

Additionally, if Comcast wants to merge with Time Warner Cable, a megadeal that's under review by the FCC and Congress, it will need to keep to its promise to invest in its network.

The whole purpose of the proposed merger "is to create the scale that will allow Comcast to make larger investments in R&D, innovation, and infrastructure to enable us to compete more effectively in this dynamic marketplace," Comcast promised late last year.

Unless that marketplace suddenly has become uncompetitive, it still needs to invest. As does Time Warner Cable, Carter, Cablevision and the other large broadband Internet providers.

Well American consumers have been waiting for this for a long time, and now it looks like the days of wireless carriers locking down smartphones to keep their customers on board might be a thing of the past.

Starting today, all U.S. wireless carriers must comply with requests from postpaid and prepaid mobile customers to unlock their devices, as long as certain parameters are met.

To be clear, the rules officially came down as early as 2013 and the industry group CTIA committed in 2014 to have all wireless carriers adhering to the new regulations by February 11 of this year.

The debate over device unlocking has come a long way in just a few short years. Unlocking a smartphone allows its owners to put the device on whatever mobile carrier network they choose.

For several years, wireless carriers have locked down their devices, allowing them only to connect to their own networks.

The move was designed to keep mobile customers close by, and not see them transfer over to other carriers. Of course it made sense for the carriers but not the consumers.

"We are pleased that the FCC acknowledged the participating wireless carriers met the deadlines to unlock their customers' devices per the Consumer Code for Wireless Service," said Scott Bergmann, the CTIA's vice president for regulatory affairs.

"We also remind consumers than an unlocked device does not necessarily mean an interoperable one since different wireless carriers use different technologies and spectrum frequency bands."

Still, the inability to unlock handsets had been a nuisance for customers. Many subscribers have desired taking a smartphone from one carrier's network and running it on a compatible alternative without needing to buy a new device.

An unlocked mobile handset would allow that interchange between, say, AT&T and T-Mobile networks. Locked devices force customers to stick with their carrier networks and if they decide to switch, buy a new device on the other carrier's network. Up until today, it was a real pain for customers.

In 2013, the issue of unlocking phones hit a tipping point when the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) banned American consumers from unlocking their devices without the consent of their carriers.

Consumer protection groups quickly took issue with the ruling, which actually came down in 2012, but only went into effect in 2013.

After several months of criticism, President Obama in 2013 signed into law the "Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act," which effectively made unlocking legal again for carriers.

However, under the new regulations that went into effect yesterday, wireless carriers will have no other choice but to remove locks on devices owned by both postpaid and prepaid wireless users.

On the postpaid side, carriers must unlock devices after a customer in good standing has fulfilled "postpaid service contract, device financing plan, or payment of applicable early termination fee."

In other words, postpaid subscribers who get smartphones for less by paying a subsidy at the beginning and paying in full over the life of a contract, must have satisfied that payment covenant before they can be allowed to unlock their device.

On the prepaid side, things are bit simpler in fact-- wireless carriers must, upon request, unlock a handset "no later than one year after initial activation."

All unlocking, regardless of the type of subscriber, must be completed within two days of a request, and wireless carriers are now required to inform consumers of their policies.

"Mobile carriers that lock devices will clearly notify customers that their devices are eligible for unlocking at the time when their devices are eligible for unlocking or automatically unlock devices remotely when devices are eligible for unlocking, without additional fees," the regulation reads.

"Carriers reserve the right to charge non-customers/non-former-customers with a reasonable fee for unlocking requests. Notice to prepaid customers may occur at point of sale, at the time of eligibility, or through a clear and concise statement of policy on the carrier's website," the new regulation states.

Earlier today, Corning has unveiled its Project Phire, a new Gorilla Glass-like material that's both extremely tough and scratch-resistant to boot, making it a good product for smartphone screens.

The developmental product was announced today at a New York investor meeting by Corning executive James Clappin.

He said the company plans to start selling the material later this year. "We have developed a new product that will provide sapphire-like scratch resistance while maintaining the legendary toughness and break resistance of Gorilla Glass," said Clappin, president of Corning Glass Technologies.

Corning's Gorilla Glass division was under pressure for much of last year amid concerns that Apple would flip from using Gorilla to synthetic sapphire, an extremely hard material that is incredibly difficult to scratch.

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While Corning repeatedly said sapphire is a poor alternative to its glass in mobile devices because it shatters easily when dropped, the situation highlighted a weakness of Gorilla-- while it may not break, it scratches much more easily.

Bringing together a display cover that's both highly damage-resistant and scratch-resistant could help Corning avoid a future competitor from taking its place as the leading display-cover maker for smartphones and tablets.

Corning makes most of its money from TV display glass and fiber-optics glass, but Gorilla has been a major growth area for the company in the last few years.

It's now dominant in the hardened glass market, outpacing a handful of competitors such as Asahi Glass' Dragontrail.

Corning's Gorilla Glass business has come a long way since Steve Jobs visited the company several years ago and asked Corning to develop a screen that would be highly resistant for Apple's upcoming iPhone in April 2007.

In other mobile news

A recent decision by the CRTC (Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission) could have some significant implications after it applied net neutrality rules to some wireless connections.

The decision wasn't expected by most observers, although some in the industry saw it coming.

In its ruling, BCE, Canada's largest telephone company was ordered to stop offering a mobile app that for $5 per month allowed users to watch up to ten hours of video from television channels owned or licensed by the company on their cell phones without it counting against a data cap.

If the subscriber were to watch videos from a rival app, the deal did not apply and the data would count against their plan's download limit.

That situation prompted Canadian student Ben Klass to complain to the CRTC, and it upheld his complaint. Crucially, however, the federal watchdog dismissed gripes put forward by Bell Canada that the video watched was a broadcast service and so telecom regulation was not applicable.

Bell also argued that the service was a good thing for Canadians and should not be prevented.

The CRTC disagreed on both counts, and it used 'net neutrality speak' to argue that such a service wouldn't be in the best interest of most Canadians.

The CRTC's decision could end up inhibiting the introduction and growth of other mobile TV services accessed over the Internet, which reduces innovation and consumer choice.

More importantly, it could also tore down a somewhat arbitrary barrier between different types of data and the rules that apply to each.

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Source: BlackBerry.

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