The enterprise mobility ecosystem battle

I’ve often written about how to get the most from enterprise mobility, with smart mobile platforms, process-based integration, and the game-changing underlying technologies like Cloud and In Memory Data Grids or grid computing. Following the recent Apple WWDC and Google I/O developer conferences, it’s worth looking at a very different battle: what are the mobile ecosystems doing to make their products more attractive to the enterprise?

Let’s take a look at today’s major players, iOS, Android and Windows, and how their latest developments will affect enterprise mobility.

iOS: The accidental leader?

As NetApp’s Mike Elgan noted recently, iOS became the leading operating system for enterprise mobility almost by accident, although it might be more accurate to say that it wasn’t designed or expected to be such a hit. The iPhone was released as a consumer device like the iPod into a world of feature phones with a small smartphone market dominated by Nokia’s Symbian, while the Blackberry was the fully-locked-down enterprise mobility device of choice.

No one expected that the consumers who bought the iPhone would consider it to be so much better than their work devices that they would break every policy imaginable to use them at work, and kickstart the BYOD or Bring Your Own Device phenomenon.

The iPhone became the dominant enterprise mobile platform for several reasons, including the ease of developing corporate apps, the iPhone’s popularity as a status symbol that made it the choice for senior managers who were able to insist on using it, and a few enterprise-friendly features that were added to iOS over time. However the biggest reason is that it has a large, loyal customer base who love the device and feel that it makes them more productive.

In the pre-BYOD world, it was assumed that consumers wanted usability, photo quality and a wide choice of applications (or the ability to do anything with the device) whereas enterprise users weren’t important because it was all about management tools and easy integration into corporate systems. BYOD showed that enterprise users are also consumers, and want the same things from a work phone that they do from a personal one.

A good demonstration of this is that the first time I saw BYOD in action was at the end of a meeting when one participant took out his iPhone, took a photo of the whiteboard we had covered in notes, and sent it to everyone in the meeting. The reaction around the table was “what a useful device; what else can we do with it?” That team had woken up to the potential of BYOD and enterprise mobility.

The iPad took off in a similar way: originally sold as a media consumption device, it has become the enterprise mobility device to take to business meetings with an array of apps that let you present, collaborate, take notes and network far more effectively than was previously possible, and you can even catch up with that latest TV series on the train on the way home.

Possibly as important as any enterprise functionality is the way that Apple sells and supports iOS devices for business in its retail stores.  I recently had a problem with my iPhone and while it was being repaired (which happened easily and seamlessly, by the way) the store staff were keen to discuss whether I used it for business, what apps and functionality I liked, what requirements it filled and so on. This shows a real commitment to making iOS devices easy for business users to get started with. iOS devices in the enterprise also lead to Mac sales as you need to use a Mac in order to deploy enterprise apps and settings to iOS.

Apple adding enterprise features

The recent preview of iOS8 shows that Apple is now very deliberately targeting the enterprise mobility market both by reinforcing the user experience that got it this far but also by providing features that make it a more attractive choice for IT.

The newly-announced Device Enrollment Program allows corporate-issued iOS devices to automatically configure and access corporate apps, reducing the time and support needed to get a new device working; and LDAP is a key component as it brings auditability to the iOS deployment with account control and authentication.

Meanwhile, the ability to passcode-protect corporate data on the device, by protecting access to the calendar, contacts, mail, third-party apps and more mean greater security for the enterprise while fingerprint unlocking means the user doesn’t have a headache accessing that data. VIP messages allow users to keep track of important conversations more easily and even small things like automatic VPN connectivity could make a big difference to the user.

Overall, iOS8 brings advances with:

  • Simplified IT administration and security, between MDM tools; enterprise grade security including encryption, per app iCloud controls and certificate-based single sign-on; and managed book and PDFs to easily deliver content
  • Improved application development, with the TouchID API, document provider APIs, content filtering and extensibility, not to mention the new Swift language
  • Greater ease of use and productivity with improved mail, seamless working between iOS and Mac, improved calendar and peer-to-peer AirPlay

I don’t want to go into too much technical detail here, but if you are interested you can find a more detailed breakdown here.

From the enterprise mobility perspective, features like Continuity, which allows users to pick up work where they left off across multiple Apple devices and the ability to create purpose-built keyboards for specific task-related apps could help increase productivity.

iOS is unlikely to completely dominate enterprise mobility in a BYOD world but it is certainly set to continue its strong performance.

Android: L for, what, exactly?

Despite its popularity in the consumer world, Android hasn’t been adopted as enthusiastically by enterprises as iOS (although some analysts disagree), and while there are several reasons for this the biggest is security.  Interestingly, Android head Sundar Pichai announced at Google I/O that the next version of Android would include Samsung’s Knox security container for all devices, not just those made by Samsung. This means Google has convinced Samsung to give up one of its key differentiators, but more on that later.

Although Knox has been marketed as making Android safe for work, analysts have queried whether it is able to withstand the current volume of security risks, especially with hackers using 64-bit root kits. With the vast majority of mobile malware targeting Android, and Google’s official line being that Android is designed for freedom rather than security, these fears may not be laid to rest anytime soon.

As well as the security concerns which have seen malware-ridden and entirely fake apps on the Google Play app store, the lack of Office for Android has been seen as an issue for Android enterprise adoption. Although there still isn’t a version of Office for Android as there is for iOS, it will be possible to edit native Office documents in Google Docs, which may be good enough for many users.

On the bright side, some of the new features such as allowing enterprise IT to bulk purchase apps and automatically deploy them should be very useful, as is the new Google Drive For Work programme which offers encryption, improved admin controls, auditability and unlimited storage.

There are also concerns for Android L in that the major improvements in battery life, speed and security don’t stand out from what was announced in the previous KitKat version, and the fact that Samsung Knox hasn’t greatly affected enterprise mobility marketshare (as measured by activations of the Good software), and that Samsung still decline to specify how many paid customers Knox has won.

While iOS has shown that enterprise mobility management isn’t the most critical factor in a BYOD world, it seems that Android phones can be sufficiently difficult to manage that they actively deter IT departments, although the new features are welcomed.  One feature that could become a differentiator is a dual-persona model that allows users to separate work and personal data, answering one of the big challenges of mobile device management.

With friends like these…

One of Google’s biggest challenges in replicating the success of iOS in both the consumer and enterprise mobility markets is that it cannot offer a clear choice of device for each use case because it has to deal with a wide range of OEMs. This task cannot be made any easier by the fact that of the OEMs, only Samsung appears to be profitable and they appear rather keen to rock the boat.

Samsung has been developing its own mobile OS, Tizen for some time and started selling smartwatches running the OS earlier this year. The Tizen OS allows Samsung to create a very similar user experience to its Android phones but replacing Google services with Samsung ones, thus depriving Google of user data and advertising revenue. It’s no secret that Google and Samsung both seemed to be trying to hedge against the other, with Google’s announcement of Android Silver to provide market development funds to OEMs that follow a more stringent set of user interface and hardware rules.

Thus the biggest surprise from Google I/O may well be that Google is getting its house in order; I can only imagine that Samsung would not have agreed to provide Knox to other OEMs unless it was reassured about the future of the relationship, or it felt enough of a threat to step into line.

Perhaps there are problems with Tizen that we aren’t aware of?

Where will Windows go in enterprise mobility?

Although Windows laptops are likely to remain the main computing device for many enterprise users for the foreseeable future, the failures of both Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 make the future unclear.

Windows’ position in the desktop enterprise market is relatively secure because users will continue to need this kind of device, and currently there isn’t compelling enough reason to switch from a familiar Windows environment to Mac, Android or Chromebook laptops. This also means that there isn’t much reason to switch to Windows 8 either, which has harmed the new OS’s adoption.

As users embrace enterprise mobility, their use cases will increasingly move between desk-based laptop, mobile laptop and tablet requirements, often all within a short space of time. This is why I believe that hybrid laptop/tablets are likely to be widely adopted: although they don’t do anything perfectly, they mean that limited enterprise mobility can be supported for the majority of users without purchasing multiple expensive devices. In recent months I’ve seen a definite increase in interest in Microsoft’s Surface, even before the release of the new Surface Pro 3. These devices can seem tiny at first, so enterprises need to consider that their users will need peripherals including external screens and keyboards in order to be productive in laptop configuration.

Where Apple is using sales of iPhones and iPads to consumers to encourage enterprises to purchase directly and add Mac support, Microsoft’s goal appears to be to place Surface or OEM-built laptop/tablet hybrids as the main (enterprise-provided) work device, and hope that purchases of smartphones follow. This approach to enterprise mobility is not really surprising, as this is how Windows PCs and laptops originally became consumer devices.

Personally, I believe we are in a bit of a device adoption lull, as we have the perfect storm of factors:

  • Devices are lasting longer and IT departments are eking out as much life as possible from them
  • The current version of Windows has been stigmatised causing many enterprises to hold out for the next version, anticipated next year
  • Increasingly mobile workforces mean IT is taking a “wait and see” approach to figure out what works
  • Rapidly changing hardware means the next version could be ideal
  • The economy remains weak and so no one wants to invest in new devices if they can help it.

Therefore, I expect that we are unlikely to see widespread adoption for another year or so, but also that the market is now reaching a tipping point from which decisions will need to be made. These decisions are made no easier by the increasing choice and variety of mobile devices, so it’s more important than ever that enterprises adopt a multi-channel, multi-ecosystem approach to their enterprise mobility applications that will allow them to develop capability once and push it out to any device.

How could any of the competing platforms perform better in the enterprise? Let us know in the comments.

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StevenBlackburn
7 Jul 2014, 3:39 p.m.

You forgot to mention Blackberry and BES10

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TomHutchins
14 Jul 2014, 11:48 a.m.

Interesting that you mention Blackberry as recent security concerns may help it avoid heading the way of the dodo. Incidentally this author has previously been quite optimistic on BB10: http://ow.ly/z7xlq

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