When it comes to Android vs. iOS in the enterprise, Android is the Borg

When it comes to Android vs. iOS in the enterprise, Android is the Borg

Summary: IBM and Apple may be resisting Android's dominance for now, but resistance is futile. A potent mix of flexibility, diversity and low-cost lets Android be whatever it needs to be -- for any business.

TOPICS: Mobility, Apple, Google, IBM, iOS

That's it. Game over. Sell your Google stock. Turn off your Samsung phones. The Android/iOS battle is over and Apple won. No one will ever buy Android devices again.

If you do a quick survey of all the articles on the recent IBM/Apple sales deal, you'd think that somehow, the Good Ship Android had just been hit with a couple of Mk-48 Mod 6 torpedoes and was drifting below the waves (Leonardo DiCaprio not included).

Gimme a break, will ya?

The recent deal between Apple and IBM — wherein IBM will help hawk Apple gear to enterprise customers — will NOT destroy Android's enterprise chances.

This week, my fellow ZDNet blogger Adrian Kingsley-Hughes and I debated this topic in one of ZDNet's Great Debates, entitled In IBM and Apple's wake, has Android lost its enterprise chance?

As you might imagine, I took the "No" side and my buddy Adrian took the "Yes" side. He argues that "the IBM/Apple partnership is a huge loss for Google, and a massive setback for Android, primarily because it simultaneously endorses Apple's previously weak enterprise endeavors, puts IBM's might behind pushing iOS to its customers, and puts Android on the back foot."

Nah. Not so much.

The IBM/Apple partnership is a sales deal, nothing more. As such, it's more yawner than anything else. IBM isn't the only game in town when it comes to enterprise, and -- let's be honest here -- Apple has a terrible track record of working and playing well with others.

IBM isn't the only enterprise game in town. Beyond Dell, HP, and Microsoft, not to mention Google Apps (which are penetrating enterprises at breakneck speed), there are a wide range of other enterprise players.

This is a nice sales synergy for Apple and IBM. Nothing more. Android is the Borg. It will keep assimilating and certainly Apple and IBM can't stop it.

iOS is incredibly limiting, sold on a very limited set of form-factor devices, and can't be modified with anywhere near the flexibility of Android.

I spent a couple of decades working with IBM and its business partners as the editor of four different journals about IBM's Notes and Domino products. I also headed up a major project at Apple. The point is, I've gotten to know both companies very well.

Employees at both companies are intelligent, competent, and hard working. IBM's secret weapon is its huge stable of independent business partners, who build custom solutions around IBM's offerings.

Unfortunately, IBM has a tendency to step on its business partners; as a result, as loyal as the business partners are, they also spend a lot of their time looking over their shoulders, worried that IBM will swoop in and take the deal they've been working on so hard for so many months.

Apple, on the other hand, likes to do things its way. Period. If you think that Apple might produce a unique version of the iPad or iPhone with certain specific features one major enterprise customer demands in a sales deal, you're high.

Sure, a hot enough feature (like turning the home button into a fingerprint sensor) might be a customer request and might eventually make it into an SKU, but you're unlikely to see, for example, a custom version of iOS built out, just because one customer needs a particular low-level security feature.

In fact, I feel kind of bad for IBM's reps and business partners. No one works with Apple these days without experiencing Apple's philosophy of cooperation: my way or the highway.

Android is far from in trouble here

In addition to Android's obvious market momentum on the consumer side, Android is designed for flexibility. "Flexibility" is not a word in the Apple dictionary.

iOS is incredibly limiting, sold on a very limited set of form-factor devices, and can't be modified with anywhere near the flexibility of Android. On top of that, no matter what form-factor/price you might need, there's an Android device to fill that need. Not nearly as much with a few iPads and an iPhone.

A great example of the flexibility available to Android comes out of an an interview I did with Dell almost two years ago where we discussed how they'd built a military-hardened kernel in Android for devices on the battlefield. The sound quality of the video is a bit bad (I was still figuring out how to make the studio work), but if you want to see where Android can brutalize Apple in the enterprise, this is a good place to start.

And Samsung has made great strides with Knox, also designed for enterprise work. Many mobile device management systems can integrate into Android at whatever level is necessary; most of that is impossible on the iOS platform.

Of course, IBM's involvement with handheld devices is anything but new. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, IBM re-badged the old Palm devices (starting with the original PalmPilot and ending with the m505) and called them WorkPads. So even the "Pad" nomenclature isn't new for IBM. In the long run, things didn't go so well for Palm.

The combination of complete flexibility, low-cost suppliers, and many vendors has given Android the option to be whatever it needs to be, for whoever needs it.

But back to the IBM/Apple partnership: Let's imagine that IBM has a customer who wants to run a custom tablet application -- and wants the screen to show nothing but that application. What do you do about the iPad launcher? Will Apple delete all the apps from it? Probably not.

With an Android solution, you have access to all of the system to do what you need. You're not limited to an icon on the home screen. You can replace the home screen and build a completely self-contained solution that is designed entirely for the work at hand.

Take something as ridiculous as the Newsstand app on iOS. It's there, whether you want it or not. You can't even hide it in a folder. It's unlikely that a customer who wants to completely own an iPad screen will be permitted to do so.

That's not enterprise friendly. It just isn't

The Android market will also be able to gain a foothold (if not a full body lock) on the enterprise market because there are many other providers beyond Samsung. There's a much better chance of finding the right vendor to fit the right solution almost all the time.

If an enterprise customer wants an Android device with an exact set of dimensions, a specific set of colors, a certain material for the shell, and a particular aspect ratio -- Android can provide it. Apple won't. Apple just won't respond to those emails from IBM's soon-to-be-beleaguered sales folks.

Special Feature

BYOD and the Consumerization of IT

BYOD and the Consumerization of IT

The Bring Your Own Device phenomenon is reshaping the way IT is purchased, managed, delivered, and secured. Our editors and analysts will delve into what it means, the key products involved, how to handle it, and where it’s going in the future.

Then, of course, you have the internationalization issue. The world is far bigger than just America, and some nations will want enterprise (and government) solutions that are not based on American devices or designs. If China wants a phone, it can buy from Huawei and keep any suspected back doors on the other side of the Pacific.

When Adrian and I sat down to debate this topic, we weren't asked whether IBM and Apple might get some sales out of this deal. We were asked if the IBM/Apple deal is enough of a game changer to blow Android out of the enterprise water.

Obviously, the answer is "no". This is a sales partnership deal for IBM and Apple. IBM makes these deals all the time, for all sorts of markets. They're good at partnering and it does help them close business deals. But as we all well know, it certainly hasn't helped them keep their competitors out of the game.

Android has proven to be a brutally effective competitor. It has grown in popularity at an almost incomprehensible pace. The combination of complete flexibility, low-cost suppliers, and many vendors has given Android the option to be whatever it needs to be, for whoever needs it. This inherent diversity and flexibility will surely impact the enterprise space, and that's before considering that companies like Google, Dell, and Samsung are themselves pretty fierce competitors.

So, no, Android has most definitely not lost its enterprise chance. This is a very long game and Android stands a very good chance of assimilating everything in its path. IBM and Apple may be resisting Android's dominance for now, but resistance is futile.

See also:

By the way, I'm doing more updates on Twitter and Facebook than ever before. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz and on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz.

Topics: Mobility, Apple, Google, IBM, iOS


David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Bullshit

    The problem with most Linux based systems is that they don't know what they want to be and leave so much open to the end user that a paradox of choice kicks in.
    • you are talking gnu/linux type desktop OSs

      Android does not leave so much open to the end user.
      • You're kidding, right?

        Android skins? Or, as Android device manufacturers prefer, 3rd party UIs: Samsung vs. Motorola vs. HTC vs. Google Nexus. Toss in Amazon with its Fire OS UI. Consider the various Android device manufacturers as different Android distros. Then toss in the skin apps available in Google Play. There's tons of UI choice open to the end user with Android.

        Thusly, the first UI choice is the smartphone to purchase. This is akin to choosing a GNU/Linux desktop distro to install. Next, one can choose to install a skin app from Google Play. This is akin to choosing a non-default desktop environment or window manager on an installed GNU/Linux distro. With Android, one can go beyond this and choose an AOSP-based mod to install, such as the popular CyanogenMod which is one of many mods.

        Clearly, choice has not hurt Android. Nor has it hurt the GNU/Linux desktop.

        In an enterprise setting, it's likely that there will be an enterprise app store rather than unrestricted access to Google Play and skins may or may not be available in the enterprise app store. In addition, the installation of an Android mod will most certainly be disallowed in an enterprise setting.
        Rabid Howler Monkey
        • Contradiction

          I think you're actually arguing against yourself here. Yes Android can be tailored but it can also be locked-down so the corporate version can be both of those things, whereas with iOS you just can't do that because you can only have what Apple gives you.
          • Nope

            Failure to lock down a mobile device is foolhardy for an enterprise no matter the OS and manufacturer (Hint: I'm no fan of BYOD). Last time I looked, MDM (please let me know if I need to spell out this acronym) solutions were available for all mobile OSs, including iOS, Android, Blackberry 10 OS, Windows Phone 8 and Windows RT.

            Ever heard of jailbreaking an iPhone/iPad? The Apple jaibreaking community is an active iOS subculture. Most, if not all, enterprises would frown on their iPhone/iPad users jailbreaking their devices. As a result, enterprises lock iDevices down in order to block employees from gaining control over them.

            In addition, enterprises often create their own iPhone/iPad enterprise app stores for their employees consisting of apps that are relevant to the business. Thusly, these enterprise users are restricted in the apps that can be installed on their iPhones and iPads relative to the Apple app store.

            A duality exists for iOS too. Consumers are free to jailbreak their iPhones/iPads and install whatever apps on the devices that they choose. A prime example being an app that provides true multi-user support for iOS (which is UNIX). And those consumers that choose not to jailbreak, the vast majority, are free to install any apps they choose from the iPhone and iPad app stores.
            Rabid Howler Monkey
      • Android is only peripherally related to GNU/Linux!

        It does not do preemptive multi-tasking in a multi-user environment. It cannot run the applications found in the GNU applications library. It cannot be scaled up to serve any industry or research project. It is simply a single-user OS.

        In the machine room, UNIX & GNU/Linux is the only real competition Microsoft has.
        M Wagner
        • not true.

          My nexus 7 has multi user login. Its not the same as on wwindows or gnu Linux. But it is multi user.

          Our uni just rolled out hundreds of locked down Samsung tablets .. Clearly its already happening.
        • Android can do all that

          Linux on Android has been happening for a while now.
          I have Ubuntu KDE desktop running on top of Android natively and concurrently.
          I am running linux applications like Gimp and Libreoffice, natively on ARM, multitasked with other Android apps.
          I have it running on a 5 inch Asus Padfone and also Transformer TF300 tablet. And it is fully scalable as it is properly running display server and SSH server so I can operate it using a remote terminal on the network.
          There's very little stopping Android devices being a full linux box. It's not limited in the software department.
    • the system doesn't care what it is.

      It is the USER that decides what Linux is.

      Linux systems are like water - just as water fits to any container, Linux can be fit to any purpose or use.

      And that goes for Android as well as any other distribution.
    • Choice is a feature

      This explains why Linux dominates virtually every market it encounters, from 99% of supercomputers to 81% of smartphones to almost everything in between.

      The desktop is the one exception - but Chromebooks are following an Android-like sales growth curve (and literally adding Android app compatibility shortly), and now hold 5 of the top 10 spots on Amazon's best selling laptop list.

      So maybe you view Linux's openness as a problem, but the market seems to have a very different opinion. I do, too.
      • Meaningful choice

        Is a feature. Choice for the sake of choice and nothing else is just noise.
      • Choice is a distraction...

        In the enterprise.
        • Saving money is not.

          And in a depressed economy it becomes a big winner.
    • You're missing the point

      Android is open, in that an enterprise can create a custom skin for Android and limit what the end users can do. So it can be a limitation to the end user. Apple's iOS devices cannot be limited like this.

      Windows devices can also be limited to run only what a company wants, hence why Windows has been the main go to OS for enterprises.
      • Hmm...

        The local school district where I live has iPads for all students, and they have effectively limited what the students can do on them. Doesn't really seem that hard.
        • you really don't understand

          The school district can only limit what iOS allows them to limit. Period. I know I manage a stable of computing dsystems
      • Everyone is missing the point.

        Between Google, Amazon, and Samsung (the only three players with the resources to take on a serious entry into the enterprise) one Samsung has the partnerships and the depth of experience to take on such a project.
        M Wagner
      • You obviously have no idea what can be done in iOS

        ... or you wouldn't have made that statement. You're making an assumption that is patently false.
    • So Choice Is Bad?

      You best remember that the next time you are looking at menu at a restaurant. I mean, so many things look good but you have to face the paradox of choice since you can't eat it all. Better to only have one thing on the menu, with no option of salt or pepper, so you'll always know what you're getting.
      • You miss the choice point here...

        It is one heck of a lot easier, cheaper, and manageable for an enterprise to control the compute environment of employees. Productivity suffers when BYOD is not controlled strictly because of the support nightmares of too many OSes, devices, variant apps. It may be great for you or I as individuals, but for enterprises, it is counterproductive to allow too much choice and that is the point of this discussion. Now let's continue the talk about the actual subject of what OS will win out in the enterprise.
        Woned B. Fooldagan