In Part 1 of this series, we look at the criteria IT can use to evaluate different types of wireless devices in order to put the right hardware in the hands of the right worker. In Part 2, we discuss which smartphone operating systems are the most corporate-friendly. In Part 3, we tell you what the enterprise user needs to know about the growing array of netbooks, smartbooks, and tablets. In Part 4, we conclude our series with some tips and advice to help you choose the right devices to meet the diverse needs of your mobile workers.
Device Wars Part 2
Smartphones are designed to handle voice, text, email, and Internet access in a single handheld device. The first thing to consider are operating systems and if they are business friendly -- that is, which ones provide easy set-up and access to corporate email and information, support data encryption, and can be remotely managed by IT departments.
In order of corporate friendliness, I rank today's operating systems as follows:
- RIM's BlackBerry OS
- Windows Mobile
- Nokia's OS
- Apple's iPhone OS
- Palm's newest OS for the Pre and Pixie
I rank the Android OS last because even Google says that as it is available today, Android does not support the functions listed above. Google claims it will offer a "business" phone based on Android in the future, but it is not clear to me if Google will get it right.
For now, my recommendation is to steer clear of Android phones in the business marketplace. Droid and others, while very nice consumer phones, do not handle corporate email, calendar, and address book functions well at all. All of the other operating systems provide solutions that will work in the corporate environment, some with more capabilities than others.
I rank the BlackBerry OS at the top because it is robust, it synchronizes well with corporate applications over the air, and it can be wiped clean (including any additional memory). The downside to the BlackBerry platform is that its Internet web browser is not nearly as robust as the iPhone's, but then the iPhone has the best Internet browser of any of these devices because of its ease of use and because there are so many applets for it that you don't usually need to open the browser and type in a URL.
Windows Mobile (now rebranded Windows Phone) will probably make a comeback. Microsoft lost some ground in the mobility space in recent years but appears to be once again energized and committed to at least the business side of the smartphone market.
Microsoft does a good job of integrating desktop and server-based Microsoft applications with those on the handheld. It will continue to be a player in this space and perhaps gain more market share when it releases Windows Phone 7.
The first version of the iPhone was not at all business friendly, as it was designed with the consumer in mind. However, with version 3 (the 3GS phone), Apple got it right. Today, the iPhone is a good, solid choice for business customers, partly because of improvements to interface with Microsoft Outlook and, partly, because it is easy to write company-specific applications than can be invoked with a single button selection.
I also like the iPhone's ability to multitask. You can send and receive messages while on a voice call, which works very smoothly on the iPhone today and will become commonplace for all smartphones in the near future. One unknown here is how to get a company-specific application you have written onto your customers' iPhones. So far, I have been unable to determine how to get an application to an iPhone without going through the app store.
There is information on Apple's website (http://www.apple.com/support/iphone/enterprise/) about setting up a VPN and other aspects of deploying the iPhone within the corporate world, but I don't see how to download a company-specific application to customers' iPhones.
The introduction of the iPhone and the increased capabilities of BlackBerry products have deterred acceptance of netbooks in the marketplace. Netbooks were on the drawing board prior to the iPhone, but then the iPhone truly changed the face of what we expect from smartphones and certainly added to their capabilities.
My recommendations for the adoption of smartphones in the workplace are the same order in which I have identified them above. In many cases, a BlackBerry, iPhone, or other smartphone will be all those in the field really need to carry -- especially those who need voice, text, email, calendar, and phone book access along with some access to information resident on the Internet or behind the corporate firewall.
These devices are not sufficient to enter a lot of data or generate reports. Most smartphones on the market today are capable of using 3G networks, and data speeds are very good in most instances.
All of the devices mentioned are capable of a fallback mode for even better coverage using 2.5G data networks in the 80-150 Kbps range.
In Part 3, we explore netbooks and smartbooks. And in Part 4, we'll delve into two of the newer classifications: mobile internet devices (MIDs) and next-generation tablet computers led, of course, by the introduction of the Apple iPad. There are mobile many choices today, and there will be many more in the future. At the end of this series we'll give you some additional guidelines on how to choose what's best for your workers.
Andrew M. Seybold is CEO and Principal Analyst of consulting and research firm Andrew Seybold Inc. Don't miss the Andrew Seybold Wireless University Monday, March 22, 2010 at CTIA Wireless 2010, Las Vegas, NV.