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Android or iOS for business users: Pros and cons for each OS

When IT considers Android or iOS for business use, it should factor in the customization and variety that Android allows, compared to the consistency that iOS offers.

For as long as smartphones have been mainstream in the workplace, IT professionals have debated whether Google Android or Apple iOS is the superior enterprise mobile OS.

There isn't a clear winner in this debate, so organizations should consider the advantages and disadvantages of each OS when they decide on Android or iOS for business users. Organizations should identify some of the changes these OSes have undergone and look at the applications and management tools they support.

Pros and cons of Android OS

Android allows organizations to choose from an array of device models from different manufacturers such as Samsung, Google and Huawei. This range of devices offers price and feature flexibility, and includes both high-end devices such as the Samsung Galaxy S10+ and low-cost devices such as the Huawei P20 with fewer functions and less impressive hardware. Organizations that buy Android devices in bulk can negotiate with manufacturers and leverage competitors' offers to potentially secure discounts.

Android device vendors also offer enhanced security on top of existing Android security measures. Samsung Knox, for example, allows organizations to deploy mobile devices with built-in security features. Android also allows for a wider range of mobile applications. Organizations can develop their own business applications and deploy them with Google Play, the app storefront for Android. Android Enterprise also allows IT to separate users' devices into two profiles for personal and business use, which enhances the security of business apps and data.

With so many versions of Android OS still in use, it's difficult for IT to maintain a consistent security profile across an organization's mobile device fleet. For organizations that prioritize simple device security management, this may be the deciding factor in the debate of Android or iOS for business users. Android devices can run for a long time -- sometimes more than three years -- which is helpful from a cost perspective, but many older device models cannot upgrade to newer versions of the OS. This leaves these older devices only as secure and feature-rich as the previous generations of Android OS.

One OS for an entire organization?

Unlike PCs and laptops, which almost always run Windows OSes, mobile devices don't have one preeminent OS. Many organizations manage mobile users that run different OSes, so choosing Android or iOS for business isn't always a one-size-fits-all decision. IT needs its mobile device management, enterprise mobility management or unified endpoint management tool to include management capabilities for both mobile OSes.

Using a multi-OS management tool presents some significant challenges. For example, certain mobile apps aren't available for both OSes. Each OS has slight differences in screen layout and device hardware capabilities as well, so the UI may be different for the devices. This can present issues for organizations that need to support both devices, and potentially user training challenges as well.

Pros and cons of Apple iOS

Apple allows admins to upgrade its device OSes easily, which helps IT manage both older devices and newer devices with the same methods. Because Apple manufactures the devices and develops its OS, older Apple devices are more compatible with newer OSes than Android devices are.

Apple also provides more consistency and quality control among its mobile applications. Applications that run on iOS have a similar look and feel within the OS and meet Apple's standard of security and functionality.

Disadvantages of iOS are a result of the consistency and stability that serve as its advantages. For example, IT has fewer options to manage and secure iOS devices with third-party management tools, and the APIs that enable management functions are more limited in iOS. Apple also offers fewer security options and doesn't make specific enterprise versions of its devices.

Apple iOS only runs on Apple devices, so organizations have fewer devices to choose from. If Apple doesn't make a device with the features an organization needs, organizations can't purchase a competing device from another vendor and run iOS. This disadvantage also comes into play with pricing; Apple devices run at a higher cost relative to other smartphones. The lack of device manufacturer competition also makes it harder for organizations to negotiate pricing and secure discounts for bulk orders of devices.

If IT pros manage both Android and iOS devices, they may have difficulties controlling iOS devices with the same level of control that they have with Android devices. For organizations with relatively simple device management needs, such as device and app management and security policy deployment, this may not be an issue. But iOS is more closed off than Android, so if IT needs special management functions for its devices, it may run into issues with Apple devices.

This was last published in April 2019

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