A New Wave of Smartphone Platforms Attracts New Corporate Users--and IT Concerns

New smartphones and mobile operating systems have drawn another sizable wave of consumers to intelligent smartphones. These platforms provide more productivity potential than ever before, but there are still gaps in the kind of security and management capabilities necessary for enterprise use. eWEEK Labs examines how to make the right choices now to meet future needs.

The release of the Palm WebOS mobile operating system on the new Pre, along with recent upgrades to both Apple's iPhone OS and Google's Android operating system, has drawn another sizable wave of new consumers to intelligent smartphones.

Given the obvious computing potential of these platforms, the rich application development environments attached to each and their enterprise-ready features, companies may be ready not only to let users attach these devices to corporate resources, but to invest in the platforms internally.

But these enterprises must at the same time take a hard look at each of these platforms to ensure that they not only meet today's mobile computing needs, but also have the capability (or a clear road map) to interoperate with other technology initiatives in progress to fulfill the needs of tomorrow, as well.

The enterprise argument for viability of each of these mobile operating systems ironically revolves around their adoption of a Microsoft technology, EAS (Exchange ActiveSync). Baked directly into Palm's WebOS and Apple's iPhone OS-and added to Android via third-party implementations such as Emtrace's Moxier Mail-EAS for each of the platforms effectively fills first-generation mobile device gaps for corporate users-the secure and timely delivery of mail and the two-way synchronization of calendar and contacts.

Depending on the EAS implementation within these mobile operating systems, EAS may also help alleviate next-generation corporate needs by delivering certain management functions, such as remote wipe or policy delivery and enforcement.

With the newly available iPhone 3.0 software upgrade, Apple at this time is ahead of both Android and WebOS with its integration into Microsoft's data center solutions, as the iPhone now can enforce password usage and settings like password complexity, expirations and history.

But this reliance on EAS won't solve all the enterprise management needs for these devices, as issues such as firmware management and encryption enforcement lay outside EAS' scope.

Despite the iPhone's recent gains in enterprise usability with iPhone 3.0, future firmware updates are still delivered by hooking a device up to a computer running iTunes. On the other hand, WebOS and Android devices both receive their updates over the air directly from the operator or hardware manufacturer-taking upgrades out of the hands of IT administrators completely. Companies that wish to standardize their mobile fleet on a specific version to ease ongoing support may find the upgrade process hard to control. Certainly, these updates could come fast and furious, as Palm has not been shy about new releases, unleashing three point upgrades in the first month the platform was shipping on the Pre.