Absolute launches BlackBerry tracker

Absolute Software Corp. is bringing the technology behind its laptop theft recovery software to BlackBerry and Windows Mobile smart phones. But according to one industry analyst, the tool will be a difficult sell for large IT shops.

The Vancouver-based asset management solution provider launched Computrace Mobile for BlackBerry Smartphones at this week’s Gartner Wireless and Mobile Submit in Chicago. One key feature of the new platform allows IT administrators to track their field smart phones via Google Maps using geolocation technology.

After installing the tool, IT managers will be able to receive asset and location data from each phone, every 30 minutes. The product can also detect hardware and software changes on a smart phone and features a “data delete” command that can help prevent sensitive corporate data from falling into the wrong hands.

“In an economy like this, IT budgets are definitely getting cut, but one of the things people are trying to do is get more bang for their buck and extend the life of what they’ve already purchased,” said Craig Clark, senior manager of marketing communications at Absolute Software.

“This allows you to effectively manage your smart phones, so that you can actually plan for buying them. You can really manage them, so you don’t have to make a bulk buy of BlackBerries just so you have enough in storage. You know how many you’ve got, you know how old they are, and if one goes missing, you know where it is.”

The company added that customers using Computrace Mobile in conjunction with Absolute’s computer tracking platform will be able to manage both these resources via a single portal.

Computrace Mobile comes with a price tag of $14 for a one-year subscription, does not require a previous contract with other Absolute Software tracking tools, and is geared toward both large and small enterprises.

But while the software is certainly capable of tracking thousands of smart phones, one analyst says the tool will have a tough time replacing Research In Motion Ltd.’s BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) at most large scale organizations.

Mark Tauschek, senior research analyst with London, Ont.-based Info-Tech Research Group, said that most of the product’s features are available natively in BIS.

“The only thing that BES doesn’t do is track the location of the device, but increasingly a lot of carriers are starting to do that,” he said.

The opportunity for Absolute, Tauschek said, is in the small and mid-sized business (SMB) space, especially for companies that haven’t invested in BES and only have a small fleet of smart phones. The BES software is priced at US$3,000 and only includes one user licence. Additional client access licences can add up as well, Tauschek said.

“You probably don’t want to spend that much if you only have 10 BlackBerries,” he said. “Instead, you can set up BlackBerry Internet Services and add this to it for $14 a month and you’ll have a lot of the features that you would get with BES or with full blown Exchange and ActiveSync.”

Tauschek said that Absolute should try and get the word out to SMBs by partnering up with carriers and make the tool available upon the sale of a device.

But for large businesses that can afford it, he added, the advanced policy-based remote wipe features and the forced pin capabilities available in BES will be too difficult to pass up.

As for the geolocation feature, the software sends out a very small ping to the BlackBerry devices in the field and has little to no impact on battery life. The feature is disabled when the phone is switched off, Absolute said.

With more and more companies having to lay off employees, Clark said, the tracking feature will be especially useful for IT administrators to keep tabs on their mobile fleet.

But according to Tauschek, the inability to track in real-time (the Absolute can only generate updated location summary reports every 30 minutes) means the tool will not be too helpful in recovering a stolen device.

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