Best Smartphone for the Enterprise: Evaluating the Contenders

Monday Apr 26th 2010 by Jeff Vance
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The best smartphone for the enterprise, a category long dominated by Blackberry, now faces challenges by Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android.

Determining the best smartphone for the enterprise has prompted little debate, until recently. For years, BlackBerry has owned the North American enterprise smartphone/mobile messaging market. While BlackBerry still has a firm grip on the market, that grip is loosening. Apple with its iPhone is turning its attention to the enterprise, while the Android smartphone looms on the horizon.

Other smartphone options – Symbian (a leading platform overseas, an afterthought in North America) and Palm (where do I even begin with its problems?) – have done little to woo enterprise users. Still other platforms, such as LiMo (Linux Mobile), Nokia-driven Maemo and Samsung-sponsored bada have their proponents, but few are in the North American (N. A.) enterprise market.

As of Q1 2010, BlackBerry owned 42.1 percent of the N.A. smartphone market, according to comScore MobiLens, well ahead of Apple at 25.4 percent and Microsoft at 15.1 percent. Google and Palm came in at 9 and 5.4 percent, respectively; however, Palm’s share represented a 1.8 percent drop (on the heels of a 2.2 percent drop from Q3 2009), while Google’s translated into a 5.2 percent gain.

The smartphone market is undergoing wild change each and every quarter, in consumer and enterprise sectors alike. Below are the platforms best suited for the enterprise today, as well as analysis of what each is doing to either stay on top or climb up the ranks.

The Main Smartphone Contenders:

BlackBerry

Current standing in the smartphone race: BlackBerry is by far the enterprise smartphone/mobile messaging platform of choice. In North America, it’s also the smartphone of choice, regardless of customer segment. For now.

BlackBerry boasts the strongest security, the best and broadest policy enforcement feature set and the most comprehensive management features. Moreover, unlike Apple, BlackBerry makes it easy for businesses to develop their own custom apps.

This week RIM added single-sign on capabilities to the BlackBerry Enterprise Server. "While chasing new trends, people forget that 80 to 90 percent of enterprise email messaging systems are on-premises ones," said Tom Goguen, VP of product management at RIM.

The latest version of BES includes SSO capabilities through Active Directory. "What this means is that a user with a BlackBerry can leverage secure enterprise single-sign-on authentication through Active Directory for access to a range of enterprise applications."

RIM also released the latest version of the BlackBerry Mobile Voice System today today. With BlackBerry MVS 5, RIM is attempting to do for the PBX what it has done for email. "For today’s knowledge workers, the PBX is the last tether to the office. Mobilizing the PBX truly mobilizes the enterprise, as compared to what happens today, which is that end users must struggle with a bunch of workarounds," Goguen said.

MVS pushes deep PBX features out to the mobile handset. MVS 5 adds the ability to do all of this over WiFi.

Smartphone outlook: With the iPhone leveraging its consumer success to get a foothold, albeit a small one, in the enterprise and Android following a similar path, many analysts believe that the BlackBerry will be left behind in the near future.

RIM believes otherwise. First, the smartphone market will be huge, much larger than the market for laptops and desktops combined, and even larger than what the mobile phone market is today. What this means is that RIM can lose market share to competing platforms while still gaining raw market size.

RIM isn't content to gain through losing, though, and continues to push innovation. "We have a concept called 'Super Apps,' which is basically a way for developers to create apps that deeply interoperate with apps from other developers," Goguen said.

"For instance, I made this call to you out of my calendar," he said during our phone interview. "All I had to do was hit one button, clicking on ‘join now.’ This is different than standard APIs in that it allows for much richer application integration."

Another example Goguen cited was an enterprise trying to mobilize its in-house CRM application. "Having CRM on the go is interesting, having it show up in your calendar is better. Having it connect seamlessly to LinkedIn is better still." With most smartphones still allergic to multitasking, this development is non-trivial.

Combine Super Apps with what BlackBerry is doing with the PBX, and it’s obvious that BlackBerry is more than ready to push back as other platforms target the enterprise.

iPhone

Current standing in the smartphone race: The case for the iPhone in the enterprise got a boost when research-firm Crowd Science released its Smartphone Usage and Brand Study, which found that 40 percent of BlackBerry users would prefer an iPhone, while 32 percent are eying up Google’s Nexus One as their preferred replacement smartphone.

Studies like these can be misleading, however. While end users might be clamoring for iPhones and Androids, IT departments are not. For instance, a recent online survey conducted by nCircle, a network security and compliance auditing firm, found that 57 percent of security pros believe the iPhone carries the greatest security risk, well beyond BlackBerry (28 percent) and Android (39 percent).

Both studies have limitations, but they accurately portray the divide between what end users and IT consider important. Apple, for its part, is working to bridge that chasm.

“To play in the enterprise, you need things like encryption, security, configuration and management APIs,” said David Goldschlag, CTO and President of Trust Digital, a provider of enterprise mobility management solutions. “Once you tackle encryption and device configuration, the floodgates open. When Apple added device-side encryption with the iPhone 3GS, it was the first step toward making it enterprise-ready.”

Apple’s well-constructed, tightly controlled App Store provides many of the benefits that used to come only with expensive middleware. Control, security and interoperability all come with the walled-garden app approach.

The big drawback of this approach, though, is that enterprise developers must jump through a bunch of Apple’s hoops before they can push out custom apps to their users. Even so, Apple’s rich APIs and SDKs make the development itself easy. It’s just the vetting that takes time.

Smartphone outlook: One of the critical differences between the iPhone (and Android) and BlackBerry is that workers own their iPhones, while most BlackBerries are company-subsidized. This means that all sorts of security best practices can be executed on the corporate device, whereas users have every right to balk at any features they find intrusive on their own smartphones.

Smart enterprises, however, see the writing on the wall and know they must get ahead of this trend. If they don’t provide a convenient and secure way for users to access the corporate apps they want to mobilize, many users will find workarounds and introduce all sorts of problems in the meantime.

While 3GS is a start with device-side encryption, the coming iPhone OS 4 should help ease IT’s concerns even more. OS 4 is supposed to address such issues as encryption for data stored within apps, the capability to update device configurations over the air and the ability to require more complex passcodes. Apple clearly has the enterprise in its sights with these upgrades.

Windows Phone

Current standing in the smartphone race: Microsoft’s mobile platform Windows Phone (previously Windows Mobile) is a classic case of good news and bad news. Let’s look at the bad news first.

Microsoft has never been able to dominate the mobile sector the way it has with desktops. comScore found that Microsoft lost ground between November 2009 and February 2010, slipping by 4 percentage points to 15.1 percent market share. Microsoft’s drop was attributed to the rise of Android and continued growth of the iPhone.

Earlier, I mentioned that vendors could actually lose market share, yet gain subscribers as the smartphone market swelled. Not the case for Microsoft in these latest reports. Microsoft’s drop in the comScore study represented a loss of roughly 300,000 subscribers.

Smartphone outlook: The downward trend has to be troubling for Microsoft, especially since Windows Phone doesn’t have the loyalty that iPhone and Android have. In fact, Windows doesn’t even register on brand loyalty studies from the likes of Crowd Science – which may or may not point to flaws in the study. Anecdotally, of the Windows Mobile users I’ve talked to while covering this space, none have expressed much enthusiasm for the platform, noting that they adopted it mainly because they were locked into Windows server environments.

I promised some good news about Windows Phone earlier, and here it is. The negativity around this platform changed while I was researching this story. The newest smartphone platform, Windows Phone 7, is generating real buzz, and the early reviews are positive.

Trust Digital’s David Goldschlag believes that Microsoft is finally getting it right with Windows Phone 7, which will launch later this year. “It’ll probably be another 18 months or so until Windows Phone really competes, for enterprise at least, but I expect Microsoft to be a major player going forward.”

However, Windows Phone 7 won't be available until the end of the year, and Microsoft must tread water until then. Research-firm Canalys believes that Microsoft will lose ground in the run up to Windows Phone 7.

"Windows Phone 7 Series represents a major improvement to the platform that was badly needed from Microsoft. However, the delay between announcement and expected commercial availability in Q4 2009 will make this year a tough one. It will impact shipment volumes in the second and third quarters, as no vendor or carrier will want a warehouse full of Windows Phone 6.5 devices come the launch of 7," said Chris Jones, Canalys VP and principal analyst.

When Windows Phone 7 does arrive, though, things could turn around quickly. Goldschlag pointed out that most enterprise customers have Microsoft in the data center, and it makes sense to light up applications like SharePoint and Office Communications Server on smartphones.

Microsoft understands this and intends to capitalize on it.

According to a Microsoft spokesperson, “Windows Phone 7 . . . delivers the ultimate Microsoft Office experience with the Office hub. The hub brings together voice, picture and text notes with easy access to documents you have received thru email and documents you have downloaded from a Microsoft SharePoint Server. All this information is automatically synchronized with your PC or a corporate server and is now available and up to date from one easy to access location on your phone.”

Could this be history repeating itself? Microsoft has taken over so many spaces in this manner – desktops, word processing, the browser, media players, and on and on – that Windows Phone 7 fits the Microsoft playbook and history perfectly: 1) Enter a space with a lackluster product. 2) Get panned by critics and users alike. 3) Upgrade the platform until it is reasonably good. 4) Co-opt what competitors are doing well. 5) Dominate.

I doubt it’ll play out that neatly in the smartphone market. The competitors are too strong, and there are simply too many moving parts to for any one vendor to dominate. But my money is on Microsoft being a serious player in enterprise smartphone and consumer spaces alike soon after the arrival of Windows Phone 7.

The rest of the smartphone pack:

Android

While I firmly believe that Android will challenge in the enterprise soon, it’s just not happening now. The security and configuration features that IT departments demand simply aren’t ready yet.

When I contacted Google about this story, they declined an interview. According to a Google spokesperson, while they intend to target the enterprise in the future, their focus is solely on the consumer market for now.

Palm

Can things get any worse for Palm? You could argue that they were the original smartphone vendor, back when smartphones were PDAs with voice capabilities, yet they’ve been struggling for years.

While some of their new models, such as the Palm Pre, get decent reviews, few users want to actually own them. comScore ranks them last in smartphone platforms in the U.S. at a paltry 5.4 percent, which represents a drop of nearly 2 percent from the previous quarter. A couple more declines like that and they won’t even register.

According to numerous reports, Palm is actively seeking buyers, working with Goldman Sachs and Qatalyst Partners to hunt one down. My question is why would anyone buy Palm? With Palm, you tether yourself to a brand with little loyalty, one that underperforms even when sold at a loss. This is also a smartphone platform that is considered fourth- or fifth-tier at best.

Android is open, after all, with a robust app ecosystem, so why not simply leverage it? Why not try to make Symbian a success in the U.S.? Why not adopt one of the numerous non-Android Mobile Linux platforms floating around?

All of these seem like better options than buying Palm, unless, I suppose, you're looking for face time with Bono. A vanity purchase may be Palm's last, best hope.

Symbian and various non-Android Linux smartphone platforms

Symbian is by far the leading smartphone platform in the world, yet it has barely cracked the N.A. market. Of course, with RIM, Apple, Google and Microsoft all based in North America, while Symbian is the platform of choice for the likes of the Finnish company Nokia and Japan’s NTT DoCoMo, this likely won’t change in the near term. While Linux powers the popular Android platform, there are many other Linux flavors that overseas OEMs are experimenting with. Samsung’s bada, Nokia’s Maemo and the Nokia-Intel project MeeGo could all pose a challenge eventually, but unless they gain significant market share overseas, don’t expect them to threaten domestically any time soon.

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