Android vs. iPhone for business: 5 questions to answer

Both iPhone and Android are already flooding past corporate gate keepers. But which is the right one for your business? CompanionLink Software's Rushang Shah tells his view.
Written by Rushang Shah, Contributor on
Commentary - BlackBerry has owned the enterprise smartphone market for years but is quickly losing ground to iPhone and Android. Most companies are taking a wait-and-see approach to confirm whether these new platforms are feasible for business. BlackBerry Enterprise Server is something they know and trust. It delivers control to IT, integrating well with Microsoft Exchange. It offers a known set of policies.

But change is coming.

Both iPhone and Android are already flooding past corporate gate keepers. Moreover, current BlackBerry users are looking to make the leap to these newer devices. Recent Nielsen surveys show that BlackBerry users covet iPhones and Androids. These new devices are the most desired smartphones for every demographic group that Nielsen studied.

Business and IT leaders realize that these devices are coming, yet they are unsure about how to move forward. The delay will only heighten the problem. After all, just because an organization lags behind a significant technology shift doesn’t mean its employees will also. Consumers are purchasing Android and iPhone devices in droves.

A good strategy for any big change is to start small. In this case, pick a specific platform, select a few low-risk apps, and make a slow transition.

Here are five questions CIOs and IT organizations should ask to assess each platform’s strengths and weaknesses, and best match the smartphone OS to employee needs.

Question 1: How much are you willing to spend?
The iPhone is an up-market device, and, if Apple’s history is a guide, it will remain so indefinitely. The Android, conversely, made the smartphone a mass-market device. This past quarter, according to comScore, Android passed RIM and iPhone to vault into the number-one position for the first time. As with Windows’ dominance of the desktop, two of the main factors leading to the number-one position are price and availability.

Android made its OS available to multiple hardware manufacturers and carriers. Competition drove prices down and gave manufacturers and carriers the ability to differentiate on price, features, or both. Consumers can choose from low-cost “starter” smartphones or up-market “exclusive” devices with fancy bells and whistles – and everything in between.

If your organization seeks a low-cost platform, Android is the way to go. However, cost involves much more than the price of the handset. Management, maintenance and security are variables that can shift the cost equation, as are the varying plans from different carriers. Even so, Android’s openness will still be an advantage with these other variables factored in.

Winner: Android.

Question 2: How important is secure email?
Secure integration with enterprise email and policy enforcement are two of BlackBerry’s main strengths and will remain so for some time. Both iPhone and Android, though, aren’t far behind. Each integrates tightly with Microsoft Exchange and has other enterprise security features, such as remote wipe, complex passwords, and data encryption.

Winner: Draw

Question 3: How important is the end user experience?
Android’s open-source operating system allows for choice. Manufacturers are free to customize user interfaces, add custom features and offer support for new types of rich media. Consumers, then, can choose media-rich phones from HTC, social-media ones from Samsung/T-Mobile or business-focused phones from Motorola. Android’s openness means that manufactures can make a device to appeal to every demographic. With iPhone, you only get one device – take it or leave.

What Android cannot get is consistency. Android chooses choice (no pun intended) at the cost of platform fragmentation and a cohesive user experience. You can't have both.

The iPhone, on the other hand, values a consistent user experience more than choice. The availability of just one new device per year ensures consumers a controlled and consistent user experience. Moreover, Apple is a master of smooth, intuitive User Interfaces. Even if you’re not an Apple fan, you can’t ignore pioneering work Apple has done with User Interface design – everything from the desktop to MP3 players to smartphones and now tablets.

Apple controls more than just the experience on the iPhone. Their iTunes and App Store software serves as controlled ecosystems that let people find apps for work, play and everything in between. Since Apple controls the entire experience from the PC to the iPhone, users get consistency.

Winner: iPhone

Question 4: How important are apps and app security?
One of the main drawbacks of Android’s openness is reflected in how they approve apps for distribution on the Android Market. Essentially, they don’t have an approval process. The Android Market does not scrutinize apps before distributing. This was highlighted recently when malware showed up in the Android Market. The iPhone’s strictly curated app submission process helps Apple dodge bullets like that.

The iPhone also more tightly controls the underlying hardware, carrier relationships, and the APIs that third-party software has access to. As a result, Apple can more easily limit the iPhone’s exposure to various security threats.

The iPhone’s status as an up-market niche phone also benefits security. And, to look at the desktop for some historic guidance, Microsoft’s wide-net distribution approach set it up as the number-one target for hackers and malware. The same pattern may well repeat itself with smartphones. Apple is comfortable offering more exclusive products with lower-volume shipments. A side-benefit of that game plan is that Apple already understands and has thought through the security implications of its market standing.

Android, meanwhile, becomes a bigger, juicer target with each passing day.

Winner: iPhone

Question 5: How will the device interoperate with existing back-end systems?
For the enterprise, the concern is integration with important (and expensive) enterprise applications. If your organization wants to give mobile users access to CRM, SFA, billing systems and other back-end applications, Android’s openness will offer the least amount of friction from point A (no access) to point B (mobile productivity).

Android offers more API hooks than iOS. This means there are more possibilities for organizations to develop their own powerful back-end apps if none already exist for them. Apple iOS offers less power in what developers can take advantage of.

Winner: Android.

Final Verdict
There you have it: a tie. If you’re a European football fan, you won’t be all that disappointed. Readers in the United States hooked on American football, baseball and even North American hockey (they recently phased out ties) will not be satisfied.

Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer. The winner varies depending on user preferences. If you are still on the fence, here are three other questions that will help you decide which platform is right for you:

  • What do the various carrier plans look like in your area?
  • How reliable is the coverage (both voice and data), and how many dead spots are there in your area?
  • What devices do your employees already own for their personal use? Is there a clear winner?
Remember, your employees are already picking their device of choice. More often than not, they’re starting to use it for work. It’s just a matter of time before you will have to make the switch to one of these newer platforms.

Rushang Shah is the chief evangelist of CompanionLink Software, developer of data synchronization solutions for mobile phones and CRM software and services. CompanionLink also develops DejaOffice, an Android and iPhone app that delivers business-class features to consumer-class devices. Contact Rushang at rushang@companionlink.com.

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