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Is Mobility The OS Or The Hardware?

Ah, the day back after a long weekend.  It was a great time here in Boston during the Labor Day celebration.  I even had my best round of golf ever yesterday….but it’s now time to get back to enterprise mobility.  Last night, I found this interesting article at Information Week that asked the question of whether a smartphone is about the hardware or the operating system that runs on it.

Mr. Rapoza’s article makes some good analogies regarding the pure commoditization of the PC world, where people either say they have a Mac or a Windows machine, with few people saying they have a HP, Dell, etc.  He then goes on to say:

“…in the phone world most people haven’t really cared if their phone ran Windows Mobile or a mobile version of Linux or whatever the vendor put on the phone. Their phone was a Razr or a Blackberry or a Palm or an iPhone.”

There’s one fundamental problem in this sentence.  The four examples he provides here were all of companies that own both the hardware and operating system layers of the mobile stack.  As we know, it’s only in the Android, Windows Mobile/Phone and to a (very) limited extent Symbian that OEMs can cook up their own versions of the OS stack to blend with their unique hardware.  Mr. Rapoza goes on to say:

“Of course, if you’re a hardware maker, this is the last thing you want to see. Phone makers don’t want to see their shiny devices relegated to the place that PC hardware has taken over the last twenty years. They’d like to see the device remain the main point of choice.”

Well here’s another problem.  People almost never look at their desktop PCs.  Typically they’re hidden under the desk and all you’re doing is looking at a shiny monitor.  The laptop is somewhat similar, although you might care more about some of the design choices, most notably its weight if you are a road warrior.  Your mobile hardware is very different. 

It’s in your pocket, or your purse, or somewhere that is instantly accessible most of your waking hours.  Heck, it’s probably at your bedside too.  I doubt (and hope for your sake) that your laptop is not there with you all the time.  However, the mobile – almost by definition – is an extension of your personal and professional life…and this manifests itself through the consumerization of enterprise mobility.

I don’t think that the importance of hardware will go away in mobility will go away any time soon.  If you are one to believe that mobiel platforms will come down to iOS and Android, then I’ll argue that the hardware is that much more important.  iOS has not aesthetically evolved THAT much since it originally came out, but Steve Jobs & Co. make us drool at the new hardware every year.  Samsung has made a big splash with its “Galaxy S” family of Android devices.  The big differentiator?  The hardware (and the bloatware the carriers slap on).

As I was thinking about this article, I looked back at some similar questions raised on this site:

And here’s an article that was published on Internetnews.com back in February 2009.

So is the smartphone, and by extension enterprise mobility, about the hardware?  Yes.  It’s also about the operating system…and it’s also about the software (the apps).  But ultimately, all this boils down to what you can do with the combination of the three – the connective tissue if you will…and this is where I’ll make the case again for the “Services.”

It’s not just about IT Services (no matter how often I’ll get on  the soap box to talk about management), but it’s all about web services, and software as a service.  So here are some questions for you to ask yourself:

  • Who in my workforce is currently using or plans on using a mobile device?
  • What do they want to do with it?
  • What services do we subscribe to (e.g., Salesforce.com) that they will want to have access to?
  • Are there any web services we don’t want to allow access to?
  • What services do we have to manage this process?
  • What services will our carriers provide us to help throughout this  lifecycle?
  • What are the best 3rd party service providers that can lend some expertise on these matters?

Hmmm…I’m now wondering if the original Information Week article should have been entitled “Is Mobility The OS Or The Hardware?”


  1. Posted September 9, 2010 at 05:21 | Permalink

    Nice topic for a wider angle of thinking!
    I completely agree with you Philippe. For mobility, everything boils down to what we can do with the combination of the three. This statement will be especially relevant in the case of enterprise mobility wherein we extend enterprise systems on to mobile for real time interactivity and data capturing accuracy through a wide variety of means (a barcode scanner plugged in through SDIO/ USB, RFIDs and NFCs interfaced through multiple I/O peripherals, wireless peripheral interfacing of portable data capturing devices like a Bluetooth enabled Pulse Oximeter etc. ) that mobile hardware supports. A mobile device with maximum perfection should have seamless integration and interfacing capabilities established for all the three!

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    • Posted September 10, 2010 at 09:15 | Permalink

      Agreed Shafeer. So who in your opinion is closest to that lofty goal today? Moving forward, which platforms have the greatest potential to reach this enterprise mobility nirvana?

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  2. Posted September 10, 2010 at 16:17 | Permalink

    Great perspectives and very thought provoking. I think the idea that mobility is the OS or the Hardware is missing the point. Mobility is the mindset, the activity, the freedom of working and playing from anywhere at any time. Yes the OS and the hardware will evolve over time but the mentality is the key and the driver. Its what we can DO when we are mobile that moves us to buy and to evolve our apps and our minds.

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  3. Posted September 13, 2010 at 01:28 | Permalink

    I would very much agree, the combination of the three – h/w, OS, and Apps – is important. Windows started to stagnate once hardware evolved at a faster pace than the OS. New H/W technologies (USB, BlueTooth, SATA, GPS) came out without built in APIs from Microsoft. This made made it very difficult for applications to support the features in a generalized fashion, across the diversity of hardware and OS versions. In the mobile space, if the hardware evolves faster than the operation system, the apps won’t take advantage of the advanced hardware. You can see this happening today as Google does not support Android 2.2 (Froyo) apps on Android tablets – they require hardware vendors to wait for the next Android version. If every hardware vendor was to invent their own APIs to support tablets (or RFID), app developers wouldn’t use any of them – and instead wait for Google to release supported APIs. Google must do a better job sharing its roadmap with hardware vendors and ensuring both sides are innovating on the same things. There is a disconnect when Google innovates in the browser, Flash, and hotspot tethering while h/w vendors innovate on screen size. Unless Google changes, with an integrated software & hardware teams, Apple is more likely to win with innovation that works across h/w, OS, and a broad segment of apps.

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    • Posted September 15, 2010 at 14:28 | Permalink

      I am not convinced on the chances of Apple overtaking google by coming up with a product that best leverages h/w, OS and application s/w due to the completely closed (privately owned :-) ) environment Apple operates. Instead I would rather see the emergence of competition between Android and Windows phone 7 if the news on the controlled open development and integration environment that Microsoft is planning to launch for Windows phone 7 is correct!

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      • Posted September 17, 2010 at 13:03 | Permalink

        I think Apple lost the war. The won the first two years of battles.. but they lost the war. In 5 years, they will own as much of the phone market as they do the PC market.

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      • Posted September 26, 2010 at 12:31 | Permalink

        Agree, competition from Android & Windows Phone 7 is good. If not for Android, it is unlike Apple would have opened their development platform up for 3rd party tools & runtimes. Windows Phone 7 will require Apple & Android to ensure they open this up in still more dimensions.

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  4. Posted September 17, 2010 at 13:01 | Permalink

    I think the decisions are more complicated. Nowhere in the original article, or your analysis, did the network come into play — and yet I know a lot of people who choose their phone AFTER they have chosen their network. (VZW has basically staked their whole marketing campaign on this…)
    There are several factors that come into play IMHO. If I were to rank them, in order of importance, they would be:
    1. Connectivity – it IS the network
    2. User Experience. Most consumers want their phone to be “cool”. This is a *combination* of Hardware and OS
    3. Applications. People still buy (and experts still recommend) the iPhone because iTunes store has more apps than the Android Market. People buy this without even blinking (or stopping to think whether they will ever buy more than 10 apps in their life, anyway)
    4. And a distant last: Brand. I think the only phone that is bought today because of the brand is the iPhone. I know some people who say: “I would never buy a Motorola phone!” or somesuch… But I don’t know many that say: “I will ONLY buy a Samsung.”

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    • Posted September 17, 2010 at 13:22 | Permalink


      Firstly, welcome to the Forum! Your point about the network is taken. I will only use a GSM phone b/c of when I travel internationally. That said, when I speak to companies that are thinking about their mobility strategy, I don’t usually throw that into the equation given the relative strengths and weaknesses of networks based upon your location. User experience is without a doubt important, but I will argue that from a corporate perspective the user experience should be trumped by the purpose of the mobile use….with user experience being a very close second.

      Again, welcome to the Forum!


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      • Posted September 21, 2010 at 10:55 | Permalink

        Interesting point: ” I will argue that from a corporate perspective the user experience should be trumped by the purpose of the mobile use”

        The problem is that for most companies I have known, “purpose” gets trumped by “Purchaser’s purpose” which is not always the same thing.

        I worked for a company that went with T-Mobile because the person in charge of purchasing had once had his PERSONAL phone disconnected by Verizon for non-payment and vowed he would never do business with them. Problem was that T-mobile was just getting started in the market and had horrible coverage. Worse, when we moved into our new headquarters, there was zero coverage for T-Mobile, and we spent three weeks without being able to take or make a cell call when at the building. You’d see sales guys out in the parking lot pacing back and forth trying to make calls. They looked like a flock of chickens searching for feed.

        All the more reason that knowledgeable people should develop guidelines that are adhered to when making mobile decisions.

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  5. Posted September 22, 2010 at 07:56 | Permalink

    Amen to your last comment! I would have loved to see the flock of chickens. Did they sing bad 80s songs too?

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