Zebra Technologies highlights Android's route to enterprise

Android has an enterprise playbook, but it doesn't revolve around bring your own devices as much as specialized gear and vertical applications.

Apple's iOS is the lead dog in the enterprise, but Android can't be ruled out especially with a little help from partners with specialized devices.

Zebra Technologies' third quarter results were solid, but perhaps the biggest takeaway is that its mobile computing devices converted to Android from Windows and are faring well.

These devices may be Android's best hope to gain enterprise traction.

In fact, Zebra sales of its Android devices have surged. Anders Gustafsson, CEO of Zebra, said:

With an early investment in Android, we have demonstrated a high level of success in the operating system of migration in mobile computing, by growing Android sales through September by 170% compared to last year.

Zebra, which bulked up through the acquisition of Motorola Solutions, delivered sales of $916.3 million and a net loss of $29 million. The company's products range rugged handhelds to RFID wristbands and readers to kiosks, barcode scanners and a range of software and services surrounding that gear.

The company's equipment often winds up in healthcare, field service, retail, warehouse management and manufacturing. For instance, Zebra's Symbol handheld computers run on Windows Embedded as well as Android. The MC17, which is designed for personalized shopping in retail, also runs on Windows and Android. Other hardware from Zebra runs on Android.

Gustafsson added:

Currently in Android, large customers are leading the OS transition. Sales from mid-sized customers and run rate business represents only 40% of Android sales. As we grow our Android business, and shift the sales mix toward the Windows sales mix, we expect the gross margin across our Android portfolio to improve.

Zebra CFO Mike Smiley said that large deals are increasingly becoming Android based. "As we look at these large deals that we're getting for Android, they are very similar to the large deals we'd win on Windows. As the business grows in Android, we will expect to see more channel or run rate business.

Gustafsson said the plan for Zebra is to get more Android tools into its sales channel.

For Zebra, the goal is to fend off consumer-based devices that could usurp its tools. The conventional thinking is that iPads and Samsung tablets could manage inventory. Enterprises, however, seem to be sticking with the same standardized rugged tools they had before.

"We tend to see our traditional competitors, but we also see some consumer-grade competitors as well, and some lower priced or lower quality competitors from Asia, China and Korea particularly," said Gustafsson.

The big takeaway is that Android's route into the enterprise may not follow that same bring your own device playbook that iOS followed. Like Samsung recently noted, Android's entry to the enterprise will revolve around specialized vertical use cases.