It’s no secret that Apple is racking up customers in the enterprise market, attracting more corporate users whose companies have reluctantly acceded to their employees’ desire to bring their iPhones and iPads to the office to use for both work and play.
Research from mobile device management (MDM) software maker Good Technology suggests Apple iOS devices are trouncing Google’s Android operating system in business adoption. iPhones and iPads accounted for more than 70 percent of all activations in the fourth quarter 2011, with Android accounting for roughly the remainder.
It’s true that Apple beat Google Android devices to market with both its iPhone and its iPad. But a bigger reason for Apple’s enterprise lead is that Android’s open-source heritage often serves as a yellow lightand sometimes even a red lightto enterprises weighing mobile device choices for employees.
In an era of so-called BYOD (bring your own device) practices, in which employees bring their personal phones and tablets to the office, enterprises tend to give iOS the nod. Apple takes a more assertive role in governing what applications can run on its devices. Conversely, Google’s Android Market has been something of a Wild West, where submissions from apps developers are not as closely monitored or managed. Moreover, Apple’s App Store has many more applications targeted for business users than the Android Market does.
Matt Self, vice president of platform engineering for cloud storage specialist Box, said it is currently challenging for enterprises to make full use of Android devices because of the dearth of business-ready applications available.
“There aren’t as many tools available yet [as there are for iOS],” said Self, whose company makes collaboration and storage apps for both iOS and Android devices. Self said apps such as Box for Android are going to help IT departments make use of all the devices their employees are bringing in.
Android’s application paucity was compounded by the fact that Apple also offered more key security controls before Android did, including remote wipe, lock and device encryption. And it didn’t help Google that it forked its smartphone and tablet branches into two code branches when it launched Android 3.0 Honeycomb for tablets last year.
Yet increased securityalong with the unification of smartphone and tablet code in the latest Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) softwarehas made Android more attractive to IT managers looking to embrace the open-source platform.
Don Grons, vice president of technology for Mission Critical Wireless, which provides implementation support for enterprise device management software makers such as Good Technology and Mobile Iron, said what Google has done with ICS will comfort some IT managers who were previously wary of the platform’s security.
For example, he noted that while previous versions of the software lacked support for VPNs, ICS features a VPN client API. This allows developers to write or extend existing VPN solutions on the platform, leveraging secure credential storage. ICS also makes it easier for applications to manage authentication and secure sessions, thanks to a new keychain API and encrypted storage.
Grons thinks the crucial component of ICS is integrated smartphone and tablet support. “Security plays a big part, but what I think is most important about Ice Cream Sandwich is that it brings the tablet and smartphone communities together operating on the same version of code,” he told eWEEK. “If both your smartphone of choice and tablet of choice run the same OS, you can administer the same policies and perform some of the same functions ¦ it helps to promote more widespread adoption into the market.”
That’s the theory, anyway. As of this writing, ICS is available only on Samsung’s Galaxy Nexus smartphone, Motorola’s Xoom WiFi tablet and some lesser known devices. Samsung, Motorola, LG, Sony, HTC and others all plan to upgrade their existing mobile devices to ICS this year. It’s hard to say exactly what the adoption of ICS devices in the enterprise will be like at this stage.
There are other issues impeding Android’s enterprise march. Current Analysis analyst Andrew Braunberg said that while one code train is better for security and management overall, Google doesn’t seem able to persuade OEMs to push OS updates on Android devices. Google was supposed to launch an Android Update Alliance last year to promote unified update cycles across OEMs and carriers in 18-month cycles, but the group stalled for reasons Google declined to specify.
“This is the bigger issue to me in regard to Android fragmentation going forward, and [its] a key point of differentiation for Apple,” Braunberg said, adding that when iOS gets an upgrade, all existing devices are upgraded posthaste.
To that end, Mark Kadrich, principal enterprise security architect for Kaiser Permanente, scoffs at the suggestion that Android, even with ICS, is business-ready.
“Until 4.0 proves itself in some pilots, I think it’s a bit premature to be deciding if they should support the entire platform,” Kadrich told eWEEK. “Android is cool, but it presents some significant security issues [and requires] enterprise-grade support tools. Lots of people writing apps will force enterprises into the business of app store support.
“Plus, I think it’s going to add significant cost to the platform. … Add to that the additional cost in people, and it looks like another cost center. If an IT manager is planning on supporting Android, I recommend he or she invest in some Ambien CR. They’re going to need it.”
However, industry analyst Jack Gold said MDM software makers such as 3LM, which manages Android at the kernel level, and Enterproid, which splits users’ personal and professional identities on one Android device, are making the platform more business-friendly and secure. He expects Google will add enterprise-class security to Android over the next one to two years, especially once the company closes its deal for Motorola Mobility.
Consummation of that $12.5 billion acquisition could come any day now, since it’s received regulatory approval from the Justice Department and European Commission.
Christy Wyatt, senior vice president and general manager of Motorola Mobility’s enterprise business, is excited about the possibilitiesboth for the combined company and particularly for 3LM, the MDM software assets Motorola acquired last year. Wyatt said she has tested ICS on a Motorola smartphone and enjoyed the experience.
She’s particularly pleased with how Smart Actions, the company’s phone management application, runs on Android handsets. Corporate workers can use the application to set rules such as muting the phone’s ringer when they enter the office or dialing down power consumption to get users through a whole workday on a single battery charge.
Wyatt also is a big believer in the company’s smartphone/lapdock combination, which lets users dock their Android handsets with a keyboard and monitor. The phone, which powers the peripherals, launches a Mozilla Firefox browser to let users type and work in a laptoplike experience.
Her mandate for her team is simple: “I never want an IT manager saying employees can’t bring their Motorola device to work. We want to be the most broadly supported Android device platform at work. And [employees] must know they can rely on it.”
It will be up to Google, with Motorola in hand, to usher Android deeper into the enterprise market.