Your work phone, a BlackBerry, has been on its last legs for a while, or perhaps it is just time for a change. What business/entreprise-ready smartphones choices do you have when looking for a replacement?
Over the last three to five years, the Blackberry was the smartphone of choice for business professionals in the Caribbean and the organisations in which they work. Key selling points for the device included:
- a corporate aesthetic and functionality that supported business communication
- options for BlackBerry Enterprise Server solutions, which were designed to securely integrate with existing enterprise server systems
- email encryption, ensuring secure communication
- BlackBerry Messenger Service, which allowed users to message each other for free, regardless of location.
However, over the last two years, the iPhone and smartphones that use the Android Operating System (OS) have also been eroding the BlackBerry’s popularity considerably. The majority of users are attracted to, among other things, the sleeker design, the touch screen capability, and the wealth of applications (apps) available on those other platforms. However, business and enterprise customers have been reluctant to change from the BlackBerry platform, although their employees embracing (and purchasing) other devices.
During that same period, Research in Motion (RIM), the manufacturer of the BlackBerry has been experiencing a number of challenges, which have been widely reported in the media. They include: poor customer response to its latest product offerings; a major management shake-up at its head offices in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada; and a significant and consistent decline in share price, all of which has had analysts predicting the company’s demise.
Although RIM plans to launch a “new and much improved” OS by early 2013, and management has been downplaying the impact of the delay, competing mobile platforms and handset manufacturers are taking advantage of the opportunity to re-position themselves and their products in the market. A coveted sector in which the BlackBerry is still widely used is the corporate client, but do some of the other major platforms perform have the capabilities to satisfy the business and security needs of that market?
With the launch of the iPhone 4S late last year, there has been a concerted effort from its manufacturer, Apple, to target enterprise customers by highlighting wealth of products it offers that cater to those users. The company’s, iPhone in Business campaign is aligned along the following five functional areas:
- organise your day – by keeping in touch, managing your tasks and staying connected
- view your business – by analyzing business metrics, managing customer relationships, and tracking time and sending invoices
- manage projects – by helping you to keep projects on track, access and share files, and read and edit documents
- meet anywhere – by allowing you to attend meetings remotely, take notes on the go, and save whiteboard sessions
- travel light – by helping you to make and share travel plans, find local resources, simplify international travel, and prepare expense reports.
In turn, for each of these functional areas, Apple has curated select apps that provide services and capabilities, suited of the business client (Table 1). Moreover, many of those apps have been developed by well-regarded software developers, which would already have products targeted at and used by enterprise customers. Hence having mobile app versions of their standard products would likely reinforce those relationships, and offer some degree of comfort to that segment of the market regarding product integration and cohesion.
In addition to the wealth of apps that are being designed specifically for the iPhone, as opposed to the BlackBerry, Apple has been highlighting its seamless integration with key enterprise technologies and comparative security features, which includes hardware encryption and enhanced data protection. Detailed documentation, including a Security Overview, is available on the Apple website.
The Android OS has provided a common platform that is used by a variety of smartphone manufacturers, including Samsung, which has been experiencing record sales with the recent release of its Galaxy SIII handset. Hence although Android might be the world’s leading OS, and offers a hundreds of thousands of applications, with the aim of providing an enhanced user experience, there are a number of concerns regarding its suitability for the enterprise market.
- One OS, too many flavours. Google, the developer of the Android OS, regularly releases newer versions of the OS, ensuring a clear developmental path for the platform. However, since the OS is open source, smartphone manufacturers, along with programmers and developers can also modify it to suit their needs. This flexibility has resulted in numerous Android smartphones being available in the market, but with each having different of features and capabilities. Hence considerable market fragmentation and compatibility concerns across manufacturers and even different versions of the OS have resulted.
- Closed platform. Although the Android OS is open source, in a study conducted by Gartner in April 2012, mobile device management (MDM) vendors indicated that “Google had “a ‘weaker management support’ for Android than Apple or Research In Motion had for their respective platforms” (Source: Computer World). In the same article, Gartner also noted that
… [a] big reason why it’s so hard to manage Android devices, … is that Google hasn’t opened many APIs to allow MDM vendors to connect their software to the operating system. Google offers 16 APIs for Android 4.0, whereas RIM makes more than 500 APIs available for the latest BlackBerry version…
- Limited security and management features. These features are still not as developed in the Android OS as currently obtains with the BlackBerry and iPhone. Moreover, as mentioned above, the diversity of devices and capabilities all on the same Android platform, has resulted to varying degrees, in enterprise security being hit-and-miss, depending on the vendor and relying on apps to fill some of the gaps.
A possible dark horse… Microsoft?
In the Caribbean, Microsoft Windows Mobile is virtually non-existent. However, the recent licensing deal between Nokia and Microsoft to use the Windows Mobile OS, and the much-anticipated release of the latest version of its tablet OS, suggest that Microsoft wishes to be taken seriously in the portable device market.
However, very few comparisons have been made between the Window Mobile and Blackberry platforms on enterprise suitability, although a recent study by Trend Micro ranked the Windows Phone second, behind the BlackBerry in terms of security and manageability capabilities. Although this outcome might seem surprising, upon reflection and recognising that Microsoft has always catered to the needs of corporate customers, and even offers a Mobile Office app, the Trend Micro results my be worth considering.
As the mobile enterprise market currently stands, the iPhone appears to be the most likely successor to the BlackBerry, and to varying degrees, its take-up in that market segment has been high. In addition to the iPhone being able to cater to the requirements from IT departments, employees are also keen to have the device for their personal use. They have been purchasing the iPhone in droves and it is then integrated into the business network as needed.
In light of RIM’s own position that it is not yet out of the game, it might be unwise to rule them out completely. Nevertheless, there are currently some alternatives in the business/enterprise market, which can only benefit the industry in the long term.
Image credits: Photos and logos, manufacturer websites and Wikipedia.