Windows, Android Battle For Mobile Enterprise Dominance

By Pedro Pereira, Field Technologies magazine 

With no word from Windows on its next mobile OS, will Android take over?

A battle royal is shaping up for 2012 between Microsoft’s Windows and Google’s Android for the crown of the enterprise mobile operating systems market. Though mobile vendors concede the difficulty of knocking Windows off its throne, some believe uncertainty about Microsoft’s next mobile OS release could create a “window” of opportunity for Android. Apple’s iOS, meanwhile, is barely on the enterprise radar, vendors say.

The battle has several fronts — smartphones, tablets, and assorted rugged handhelds used in such fields as transportation and utilities. On the Microsoft side, things get a little complicated because there are two operating systems at play. Windows Embedded for Handhelds (formerly Windows Mobile) is on version 6.5, and the vendor has given no clear indication when the next release will come. However, Windows 8, scheduled for release in 2012, is expected to support tablet computing and, as such, it could make a splash, vendors say. “Windows will continue to be the OS of choice for desktop and laptops,” says Bryan Wesolek, president of Data Ltd. (DLI), a manufacturer of rugged mobile tablet and in-vehicle computers. “Microsoft’s embracing of the touch interface with Windows 8 will help rugged implementations by bolstering the ability to launch a like OS throughout the enterprise.”

Elva Martinez, software product manager for Datalogic Mobile, a maker of mobile solutions and devices, says Microsoft’s success with Windows 7 has spurred enthusiasm for Windows 8. That, plus Microsoft’s relationship with Nokia, could potentially change the handheld market, she says.

Ron Hassanwalia, VP of sales and marketing at SOTI Inc., a maker of enterprise mobile management solutions, says there is too much confusion in the Microsoft space. While the Redmond giant can battle it out with Android in the consumer space, it’s a different story in the bar code scanning and rugged world where users are demanding bigger screens of at least 5 inches and as many as 10 inches. How Microsoft will handle that remains to be seen, he says.

Bullish On Android
Hassanwalia is bullish on Android in the enterprise. He cites Motorola’s release of the ET1 tablet and recent Android related innovations by Samsung as evidence of the OS’s enterprise viability. Samsung’s innovations include 256-bit encryption and the ability for companies to automatically push applications to devices and block unwanted applications. “Android is definitely a contender in the enterprise space, and it is most likely going to be a contender in the rugged space,” Hassanwalia says.

Martinez has her doubts. “Although a popular choice for tablets and smartphones, Android still doesn’t seem to have the traction needed for traditional enterprise use. It’s finding similar resistance in vertical markets to what its Linux ancestors saw,” she says. Nevertheless, she expects more Android based devices will hit the market in 2012, as OEMs like Panasonic load it in their tablets. With Google behind it, the operating system is here to stay, she says.

For its part, DLI is developing solutions with both the Android and Windows in mind, says Wesolek. “Manufacturers are faced with developing devices that support a thick-client Windows OS while providing the flexibility to future-proof with Android,” he says. “DLI is consistently developing under this mindset and is launching two new devices in Q1 that support Android and Windows.”

Wesolek sees 2012 as a pivotal year for Google’s OS. “Whether it’s sink or swim to win gold, Android is going to dominate or disappear.”

Windows Vs. Android: A Variety Of Pros And Cons
Compared to Windows, vendors say Android offers a mixed bag of pros and cons. As a Linux-based system, Android is an open-source platform that gives developers and OEMs customization flexibility. As a result, says Hassanwalia, the platform benefits from innovations by OEMs working collaboratively on the system.

Wesolek agrees that is an advantage, but also sees a flip-side. “Updating and debugging are done by the manufacturer and not by Google,” Wesolek says. “This complication is compounded by the fact that troubleshooting and diagnostic tools that are available for Windows-based PC architecture have not been released for Android.”

Martinez says Android beats Windows in aesthetics, thereby attracting users. “The GUI looks so much more elegant and provides an environment where all apps flow very nicely. It’s leaner as it doesn’t carry all the overhead that Microsoft platforms are known for.”

However, while Android is perceived as a lower-cost option, it isn’t necessarily so. “By purchasing a Microsoft platform, you are purchasing the armour that Microsoft supplies to ensure a secure platform to run business transactions,” Martinez says. Other Android concerns, she adds, include lack of drivers and interoperability for the enterprise.

Apple And The Enterprise
Unlike with Android, perspectives on Apple’s iOS enterprise chances are uniform. While iPads and iPhones have undisputed consumer appeal, Apple has not sought enterprise business, and nothing indicates this will change any time soon, say mobile solution vendors.

“iOS is like a Hollywood movie star,” says Martinez. “People love movie stars, but if they had to live with one, it would limit their lifestyle and access to activities and tasks the rest of us ‘ordinaries’ take for granted. There has to be more than glamour and fun, there has to be functionality, compatibility, security, and acceptance in a business environment.”

Wesolek sees iOS continuing as a closed-system architecture for consumer-oriented applications. “Rugged devices are developed to fulfil enterprise needs, which is not Apple’s direction,” he says. Hassanwalia says Apple has taken tiny steps toward the enterprise, such as making apps available for bulk purchases. “You get a discount for the bulk purchase. The problem with that is that as a company I am transferring ownership of the software to the user. When that person leaves, I have to buy another seat,” he says.

So Which OS Is The Right OS?
Faced with the question of which OS to recommend to users, not surprisingly mobile solution vendors answer cautiously. Wesolek recommends selecting a hardware vendor that supports multiple operating systems.

Hassanwalia says the decision should hinge on whether the user needs a corporate or personal device. At the corporate level, it’s important to determine the level of control you need over the device. That puts the iPhone at a disadvantage even though a lot of users gravitate to it, he says. Postdeployment costs are higher for the iPhone than its competitors, and it’s too easy to inadvertently delete an app on the iPhone.

Martinez says the iOS and Android are best for “fun and games, socializing, and personal use.” iPads, semirugged computers, and smartphones, she says, make sense in light duty or retail carpeted environments, as well as with mobile workers where enterprise security is not a concern. “If you are in an industrial environment or a business environment where security, compatibility, and reliability are critical, stick to rugged devices with Windows-based platforms,” she says.