One of the most interesting shifts in enterprise mobility over the past couple of years is the development of a new type of mobility environment built around a single device. Although BYOD and the increasing personalization of IT have driven a trend towards supporting multiple platforms and multiple devices, there are still companies out there that only support a single platform. But it’s not the one that enterprises assume.
When I bring up single-platform or single-device mobility shops, the most common response is “We haven’t been a Blackberry-only shop for a while” or “Even though we’ve tried to stay Blackberry-only, we have other devices slipping in.” At this point, the Blackberry-only shop is relegated to organizations that truly require a closed mobile ecosystem built around the BES and custom compliance.
More commonly, organizations have started to speak about their enterprise mobility plans by talking about mass purchases of iPhones and iPads, iOS-based application development and enterprise application stores, and enterprise mobile application roadmaps based on an iOS-first approach. In short, Apple has become the new standard for enterprise mobility, not Blackberry.
How does this shifting mentality affect organizations that have developed their mobile policies around a different device? First, consider how the iPhone and Blackberry are similar.
In terms of usability and functionality, the iPhone sets the enterprise standard for applications. Android business applications are often ported over to imitate existing iOS applications because of the high user experience associated with iOS. This standard of enterprise usability was the initial reason that iOS took over the Blackberry’s leadership position in the first place. Although it seems antiquated now, the Blackberry’s keyboard and scroll wheel provided a superior user experience at the time. But as a touch-based interface became the standard for mobile devices, iOS became entrenched as the mobile application bearer of choice and, by extension, the mobile operating system of choice for the future-facing enterprise.
iOS 4 was a game changer because it brought enterprise security and management capabilities to iOS devices. Prior to this point, IT could push back with enterprise concerns because it was very challenging to manage iOS devices with a scalable minimum level of security and governance for many regulated industries. But at this point, iOS has met this minimum standard for the most part though the consumer-first approach creates holes with each new set of functionalities that are launched with a new device or OS version. Security was a necessary component of becoming an enterprise standard: RIM came to it naturally while Apple took several years to get there. In addition, with Apple’s Configurator, Apple finally created a native iOS device management tool. However, for early adopters, this tool was far too late for those who had already chosen from any of the leading mobile device management companies.
Much like RIM, iOS is also a closed ecosystem that is purpose-built rather than focused on integration. RIM was built around the need for centralized secure messaging. iOS is focused on exchanging information as easily as possible. It ends up that neither of these purposes are fully aligned with conducting business. RIM’s single point of failure in Waterloo and prolonged inability to create a strong developer community due to the focus on messaging led to its downfall. In contrast, iOS’ use of iTunes and iCloud can provide headaches for IT directors seeking to control both compliance and data expenses. In both cases, these closed ecosystems force enterprise managers to think about third-party solutions to work around the initial challenges provided by each ecosystem.
Despite these similarities, companies that are pursuing an iPhone-only path need to think about a couple of core challenges.
First, just as Blackberry was overtaken by the iPhone, iPhones are being overtaken by Android devices from a pure sales perspective. Android has its own issues with OS fragmentation, intellectual property issues associated with multiple Android-based devices, and the lack of standardization around Android device management and security. However, from a pure numbers perspective, Android is forcing fragmentation just as Apple once did in the enterprise. Companies focusing on an Apple-only approach may have to shift on a dime and take a platform-neutral approach rather than focus just on Objective C.
Second, despite the claims that “Apple designed the iOS platform with security at its core“, this security is limited to protecting Apple’s own ecosystem rather than to meet enterprise security and compliance concerns. Every time a new Apple feature comes out, such as Facetime or iMessaging, IT managers have to figure out after-the-fact either how to ban or archive this usage, depending on what is practical and legal.
Ultimately, the decision of whether to go with a single mobile vendor or to support multiple platforms is a business decision, not a simply binary decision of “Right” vs. “Wrong.” But companies cannot take a COPE (Corporate Owned, Personally Enabled) or BYOD approach to supporting multiple platforms must consider the specific trends and pain points associated with being locked into a single platform by learning both from the lessons of Blackberry past and iPhone’s present.