This year’s mobile news has at times seemed dominated by smartphone Operating Systems: which has the most users, which is the most advanced, which is the most flexible and developer-friendly. But outside of consumer bells and whistles, how many platforms are ready for the serious test of enterprise deployment? We spoke to TBS Enterprise Mobility’s Managing Director, Steve Reynolds…
Q: We’re hearing more and more about smartphone operating systems and particularly the rise of the Google Android OS. How much impact is this having on enterprise solutions?
SR. What we’re seeing in the marketplace is a lot of focus on innovation in consumer smartphone operating systems. There’s a lot of noise out there which, as always, can make it tough to gauge what’s significant and what isn’t. What isn’t in dispute is that the smartphone market growth is phenomenal. It’s quite possible that we’ll see another 1000% growth on top of what we have now.
Q. What does this mean for device manufacturers?
SR. Manufacturers are at the point where they need to differentiate through genuine innovation. LG is launching its 3D phone, and there’s been considerable attention on the birth of smartphones with integrated Near Field Communications (NFC) functionality this year.
Manufacturers need to also be aware of form factors creeping up on the smartphone. At executive level in the enterprise space many devices like tablets are used covertly, or ‘unofficially.’ It’s only a matter of time before enterprise demands more from manufacturers’ technology stack, and consumer functions formally and securely percolate through to enterprise class devices.
Q: Why has Android become the consumer OS of choice?
SR. It’s the consumer OS of choice for many reasons. Android is an open source platform that’s been adopted across device manufacturers who are each seeking to differentiate and the open nature of the system gives greater opportunity to do this. High end, sophisticated devices are being produced alongside entry level, affordable smartphones like those from Samsung. This has defined the consumer difference.
Q. Is Android ready for use in the enterprise?
SR. There are considerable challenges for the Android OS before it is fit for enterprise purpose. With open source systems come legitimate concerns over lack of control. The current Android marketplace for distributing applications has a minimal form of quality testing, with reports suggesting that as many as 4 in 6 applications risk breaching data confidentiality regulations. Added to this are challenges around security, remote device management and whether Android devices are more vulnerable to being hacked. We don’t want to see another Sony PlayStation scenario with mobile data.
But there is promise. Developers can program enterprise applications to protect businesses from these threats. The next 12 months will see enterprise-focussed organisations like TBS develop applications which are sensitive to OS weaknesses.
Q: With the breadth of choice, what should I consider in selecting an OS for an enterprise solution?
SR. We should be careful to distinguish between enterprise solutions and field mobility here.
For many in the corporate space, enterprise solutions can mean email and messaging systems alone. These requirements can be adequately accommodated in iPhone and Android systems – provided there is an appropriate level of security installed on devices. Perimeter passwords offer protection, while technical policies can control the types of applications which can be downloaded.
However, field mobility organisations demand the flexibility to grow and adapt their solutions according to tight specifications and specific business needs. Rather than purchasing applications from a marketplace, many organisations select developers who can provide bespoke applications which future-proof investment through innovation roadmaps.
Remote device management and perimeter security has been a key requirement for enterprise based solutions over the last decade. For those managing large fleets of vehicles or construction teams in remote environments, this is critical. Windows Mobile 6.X has largely stood alone in supporting these requirements up until now.
Q. Are businesses limited by the availability of operating systems and devices, or is there enough choice?
SR. If anything there is too much choice at the moment. Everything from Android’s rise, to Palm’s Mobile OS, to Nokia’s disposal of Symbian hints at an overarching consolidation which could ultimately converge to just 3 or 4 systems.
Multiple OSs with multiple Software Development Kits makes for a frustrating and confusing development experience, but the advent of HTML 5 heralds a real cross-platform development leap forward. Notwithstanding current limitations in its low level control of devices and an absence of rich control, in time it will lead to more fluent programming.
Q. What is the TBS development strategy for accommodating the OS market evolution?
SR. It’s imperative for TBS that we support as many smartphone operating systems as possible to give our customers the chance to innovate. To this end we have an intensive programme underway to provide solutions on all of the major smartphone systems, in addition to tablet devices. With device boundaries set to blur in the future, our goal is to ensure TBS customers can use multiple form factors and are given the ultimate flexibility to adapt solutions in line with their businesses.