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September 16, 2013

Apps put employees' personal devices to work

(Continued)

"I don't think what we're doing replaces wholesale what exists today. I don't think people are going to shut down their e-mail servers. I think it's a new type of communication."

It is not yet clear that there is a big appetite for such apps. In a recent poll of 100 early-stage investors, almost 5 percent said they were paying close attention to opportunities in "BYOD enterprise services," compared with more than 20 percent watching mobile payment technology, according to valuation company Worthworm.

San Francisco-based Voxer is marketing its service as a smartphone alternative to radio "walkie-talkies." It sends and saves sound bites instead of text messages. When he first launched Voxer almost two years ago, founder and chief executive Tom Katis wanted to vend the technology to businesses but found it a hard sell.

"Trying to explain [the concept] to somebody intellectually — people don't get it."

Voxer resonated better with consumers willing to try new apps, Katis said. Within several months, Voxer grew to tens of millions of users, reaching iTunes' 20 most downloaded free apps. Having demonstrated the concept, Katis said, the team added features like urgent notifications and headset integration and rereleased the app for businesses a few weeks ago. Businesses pay subscription fees of between $5 and $10 a month for the service, Katis said.

BlackBerry, which eight years ago pioneered BlackBerry Messenger, a text service for BlackBerry phones using PIN codes instead of phone numbers, plans to release an iPhone and Android version of the service in a few weeks, the company said.

"We see growing opportunity in this space to make messaging, screen-sharing, some group features, and other sharing features," said Thad White, director of BBM for Business.

White noted that many of BlackBerry's business customers are in highly regulated industries — government, finance and health care, for instance — with strict compliance laws requiring employers to survey employee communication records.

The new version would allow them to gather records from employee BlackBerry messages, even if they're not using BlackBerry devices. The service currently has 60 million active users who send 10 billion messages daily, according to the company. Businesses pay about $19 a year per user for the service, according to BlackBerry.

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