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Mobility platforms - State of the Union

Anthony Caruana

Anyone planning a mobile device strategy for their business would have been interested in this week's news that Google has decided to purchase Motorola Mobility. In case you'd missed it, Motorola split its business into to parts earlier this year - Motorola Mobility and Motorola Solutions. Before that, Microsoft and Nokia announced a deal that would see the Finnish phone maker deliver devices with Microsoft's latest mobile OS. Android is on the march and iOS is still in the game.

IT departments contemplating what mobile platform to implement have four choices in front of them.

1. BlackBerry

Despite being the first true smartphone platform and the last major entrant to tablet computing, the BlackBerry platform remains the gold standard when it comes to enterprise messaging. All of the security features that we now expect in a mobile device platform have been part of the BlackBerry platform for years.

Until last year, RIM's play was only in the handheld market but the release of the PlayBook signalled a shift into the enterprise tablet space. Like Apple, they're keeping things simple with just three models - varying only in storage capacity. The main issue we see with the form factor is the 7-inch display. Although the 1024 by 600 resolution is fine although we find it a small. However, that's a personal preference and, admittedly could be a little skewed by our long-term iPad use.

Where the BlackBerry platform

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stands out is security. Earlier this month, RIM announced that the Defence Signals Directorate (DSD) of the Australian Government has approved the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet for use in government agencies when using its BlackBerry Bridge application and connected to an approved BlackBerry smartphone. The Bridge application funnels BlackBerry smartphone’s email, calendar, address book, memo pad, task list, BlackBerry Messenger and browsing functionality using the larger display on the tablet. That means that all communications are encrypted and secured using the BlackBerry Enterprise Server. Comms between the PlayBook and handset are also secured. However, it also means that you can't use those apps without a BlackBerry handset.

Scott Deacon, Manager Security Certifications, Asia Pacific BlackBerry Security, RIM says that "The BlackBerry PlayBook is the only tablet to be awarded this certification from the Australian Government, meeting its strict security requirements for use by government representatives with data classifications of up to and including RESTRICTED/ PROTECTED".

2. iOS

Plenty of ink has already been spilled on the iPad and iPhone so I won't repeat everything. The really confusing part about Apple's enterprise strategy is that it has dropped the XServe products and their storage offerings. They seem to expect businesses to run Mac minis and Mac Pro hardware as servers. That makes a mess of data centres as there's no rack mount options. So, while there's a device that's clearly popular - a walk through any airport lounge reveals a growing number of execs with iPads and iPhones - but a company that doesn't seem to want to play in the enterprise space.

On the other hand, they do supply the iPhone Configuration Utility so that mass deployments of iOS devices are relatively easy and there are several third party products around for device management. For example, there's the Casper Suite (It's called Casper because it's the "friendly ghost" - a play on the Symantec product name) and FileWave.

If you want the most user-friendly device and can live with the lack of Flash support, the iPad will be "good enough". But, in our view, it's a consumer device rather than an enterprise one.

3. Android

So, what's Google's play in buying Motorola Mobility? Are they interested in becoming a hardware OEM or is this a defensive play, designed to sure up Android's manufacturer base and protect Google from the aggressive patent buying Apple and Microsoft have recently engaged in?

Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi says that "We do not believe that Google is interested at becoming a phone vendor. This is about defending Android and moving it forward with the right developments".

There's no doubt that Android's star is rising. Most analysts agree that Android is now outselling iOS in the smartphone market and the release of Honeycomb, Google's first tablet-ready mobile OS, has buoyed the market with several OEMs now offering products that aren't just like the iPad but often better.

In our view, the latest generation of Android tablets are enterprise ready. There's broad application support, the devices reflect higher level of build quality over the first Android tablets and Honeycomb is a very user-friendly OS - a criticism that was rightfully aimed at the first Android tablets that were little more than overgrown PDAs.

4. Microsoft

With the other platforms, we've not really discussed on the developer. But with Microsoft, things are a little different as they seem to be in a transition phase. Microsoft has two, separate mobility solutions on the market.

For phones, Windows Phone 7 is the latest iteration of their mobile OS. Unlike previous versions that felt like someone had tried to shrink the PC version of Windows onto a small screen, Windows Phone 7 was totally redesigned for mobile devices. The tiled interface is finger-friendly and the handsets are far more attractive than the previous generation. As you'd expect, integration with Exchange is excellent and, reflecting the consumerisation of the office, it integrates with the most popular social media sites.

The recent deal struck between Microsoft and Nokia means that the world's largest handset vendor will now be shipping Windows Phone devices. That was significant enough deal that Gartner now thinks Microsoft will be number two in the smartphone market behind Android by 2015 with 20% of the market. This will relegate Apple to third place, with a shrinking share.

On the tablet front, Microsoft was clearly surprised (as was everyone) with the release and success of the original iPad. After more than 10 years pushing Windows based tablets, they saw a new player enter and totally redefine the market. However, if previews of Windows 8 are anything to go by, that could change quickly.

Microsoft's Julie Larson-Green, Corporate Vice President, Windows Experience recently said that "A Windows 8-based PC is really a new kind of device, one that scales from touch-only small screens through to large screens, with or without a keyboard and mouse". Unlike the first mobile versions of Windows that looked like cut down versions of Windows, Windows 8 looks like the smartphone OS has been given a dose of steroids.

If Windows 8 can come to market in the next 12 months we could see Microsoft regain market share in the tablet market as it will no doubt integrate with Exchange, SharePoint and other common back-end systems.