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

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.
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor

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.

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.

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