Apple's iOS is the new BlackBerry, but Android is finally making strides to attract business customers.
It's easy to look at such phones as the Samsung Galaxy S IV and the Galaxy Note II and get excited about the enterprise features Android offers. Unfortunately, IT decision makers cannot afford to take such a view, because those devices are just one part of the Android ecosystem. When weighing Android versus iOS, IT has to figure out if Android's overall advancements in features and security are enough to compete with iOS in the enterprise.
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Android is starting to win some battles against iOS in the enterprise.
In 2012, Google rolled out two major Android operating system updates: Ice Cream Sandwich and Jelly Bean, both of which did a great job making the tablet and phone versions of the OS look and feel more similar. We also saw the first enterprise app store for Android in December. Other nice additions that came with Jelly Bean include the following:
- Multiuser support. This feature allows more than one employee to have their own customizable spaces on a single device. The benefit is that, if a small sales force or other team has a limited need for tablets, you can implement device-sharing and save on hardware costs. Newer tablets can support up to eight users, with up to three active users simultaneously. They can all sync data at the same time and use the same apps.
- Verification. This new service provides enhanced security with an always-on VPN.
- Device encryption. It is now more reliable, and the OS periodically reminds users to decrypt their devices. It also declines SMS messages and calls when waiting for decryption.
- Malware-prevention improvements. Android added features such as address space layout randomization, which makes it harder for malware to locate key data structures; and data execution prevention, which stops malware from executing code from certain regions. Android security still has a ways to go, but these are steps in the right direction.
Because Android is an open source OS, device manufacturers can -- and do -- make significant modifications and additions. With its wildly popular Galaxy S III and Note II, Samsung was the largest manufacturer of smartphones in 2012, shipping 63.7 million units in the fourth quarter alone, according to IDC. The company added its own enterprise security features, including advanced Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync support and AES 256-bit device encryption, through its Samsung Approved for Enterprise (SAFE) program.
Android vs. iOS and the role of fragmentation
Do the native OS improvements and additional capabilities such as SAFE mean Android is ready to uproot iOS in the enterprise? The answer is maybe. Android's variety of features and rate of innovation are impressive, but what makes Android great for consumers is what makes it difficult for organizations. On one hand, consumers have many customizable devices to choose from. On the other hand, organizations that let users bring their own devices face the prospect of supporting four to six different OS versions running on literally hundreds of different phones made by a handful of manufacturers. This fragmentation makes it difficult to support, create apps for and manage the security of Android devices in the enterprise.
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Apps for iOS, on the other hand, consistently work well across four different OS versions. Apple makes all the iOS devices, and they seem to integrate with Windows better than Android. And it offers features such as guided access, which allows IT to limit certain functions of apps. Its certificate-based VPN authentication works with virtually all Apple products, whereas your VPN may only work with a specific Android version or device.
Apple is winning the war, but Android is starting to win some battles against iOS in the enterprise. Look for small, upstart companies to align with Android, because they do not have a large Windows infrastructure and they can align more easily with other Google products, such as Google Apps.