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Best Smartphone for the Enterprise: Evaluating the Contenders

The best smartphone for the enterprise, a category long dominated by Blackberry, now faces challenges by Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android.
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Determining the best smartphone for the enterprise has prompted little debate, until recently. For years, BlackBerry has owned the North American enterprise smartphone/mobile messaging market. While BlackBerry still has a firm grip on the market, that grip is loosening. Apple with its iPhone is turning its attention to the enterprise, while the Android smartphone looms on the horizon.

Other smartphone options – Symbian (a leading platform overseas, an afterthought in North America) and Palm (where do I even begin with its problems?) – have done little to woo enterprise users. Still other platforms, such as LiMo (Linux Mobile), Nokia-driven Maemo and Samsung-sponsored bada have their proponents, but few are in the North American (N. A.) enterprise market.

As of Q1 2010, BlackBerry owned 42.1 percent of the N.A. smartphone market, according to comScore MobiLens, well ahead of Apple at 25.4 percent and Microsoft at 15.1 percent. Google and Palm came in at 9 and 5.4 percent, respectively; however, Palm’s share represented a 1.8 percent drop (on the heels of a 2.2 percent drop from Q3 2009), while Google’s translated into a 5.2 percent gain.

The smartphone market is undergoing wild change each and every quarter, in consumer and enterprise sectors alike. Below are the platforms best suited for the enterprise today, as well as analysis of what each is doing to either stay on top or climb up the ranks.

The Main Smartphone Contenders:

BlackBerry

Current standing in the smartphone race: BlackBerry is by far the enterprise smartphone/mobile messaging platform of choice. In North America, it’s also the smartphone of choice, regardless of customer segment. For now.

BlackBerry boasts the strongest security, the best and broadest policy enforcement feature set and the most comprehensive management features. Moreover, unlike Apple, BlackBerry makes it easy for businesses to develop their own custom apps.

This week RIM added single-sign on capabilities to the BlackBerry Enterprise Server. "While chasing new trends, people forget that 80 to 90 percent of enterprise email messaging systems are on-premises ones," said Tom Goguen, VP of product management at RIM.

The latest version of BES includes SSO capabilities through Active Directory. "What this means is that a user with a BlackBerry can leverage secure enterprise single-sign-on authentication through Active Directory for access to a range of enterprise applications."

RIM also released the latest version of the BlackBerry Mobile Voice System today today. With BlackBerry MVS 5, RIM is attempting to do for the PBX what it has done for email. "For today’s knowledge workers, the PBX is the last tether to the office. Mobilizing the PBX truly mobilizes the enterprise, as compared to what happens today, which is that end users must struggle with a bunch of workarounds," Goguen said.

MVS pushes deep PBX features out to the mobile handset. MVS 5 adds the ability to do all of this over WiFi.

Smartphone outlook: With the iPhone leveraging its consumer success to get a foothold, albeit a small one, in the enterprise and Android following a similar path, many analysts believe that the BlackBerry will be left behind in the near future.

RIM believes otherwise. First, the smartphone market will be huge, much larger than the market for laptops and desktops combined, and even larger than what the mobile phone market is today. What this means is that RIM can lose market share to competing platforms while still gaining raw market size.

RIM isn't content to gain through losing, though, and continues to push innovation. "We have a concept called 'Super Apps,' which is basically a way for developers to create apps that deeply interoperate with apps from other developers," Goguen said.

"For instance, I made this call to you out of my calendar," he said during our phone interview. "All I had to do was hit one button, clicking on ‘join now.’ This is different than standard APIs in that it allows for much richer application integration."

Another example Goguen cited was an enterprise trying to mobilize its in-house CRM application. "Having CRM on the go is interesting, having it show up in your calendar is better. Having it connect seamlessly to LinkedIn is better still." With most smartphones still allergic to multitasking, this development is non-trivial.

Combine Super Apps with what BlackBerry is doing with the PBX, and it’s obvious that BlackBerry is more than ready to push back as other platforms target the enterprise.

iPhone

Current standing in the smartphone race: The case for the iPhone in the enterprise got a boost when research-firm Crowd Science released its Smartphone Usage and Brand Study, which found that 40 percent of BlackBerry users would prefer an iPhone, while 32 percent are eying up Google’s Nexus One as their preferred replacement smartphone.

Studies like these can be misleading, however. While end users might be clamoring for iPhones and Androids, IT departments are not. For instance, a recent online survey conducted by nCircle, a network security and compliance auditing firm, found that 57 percent of security pros believe the iPhone carries the greatest security risk, well beyond BlackBerry (28 percent) and Android (39 percent).

Both studies have limitations, but they accurately portray the divide between what end users and IT consider important. Apple, for its part, is working to bridge that chasm.

“To play in the enterprise, you need things like encryption, security, configuration and management APIs,” said David Goldschlag, CTO and President of Trust Digital, a provider of enterprise mobility management solutions. “Once you tackle encryption and device configuration, the floodgates open. When Apple added device-side encryption with the iPhone 3GS, it was the first step toward making it enterprise-ready.”


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