With the launch of IOS4--the rebranded iPhone OS 4--and the recent unveiling of Android 2.2, the leading edge smartphones have new OS platforms to build on. There are a lot of cool "bells and whistles" type features in both, but when it comes to deploying the smartphone as a business tool, which OS is better for business?
Perhaps neither of these smartphone platforms is "best" for the enterprise environment. RIM is the leading smartphone platform by a wide margin, and even third-place Windows Mobile--now Windows Phone 7 when the next generation hits the streets--is a more established business tool with tighter enterprise integration.
However, iPhone and Android are the best smartphones in general available right now, so business professionals and IT administrators need to be able to weigh which is better for their business needs.
For Business Professionals
• E-mail. IOS4 introduces the unified e-mail inbox to the iPhone. Rather than having a separate inbox for each e-mail account, all e-mail will go to one inbox and conversations will be threaded for more efficient messaging. Android 2.2 does not have a unified e-mail inbox, or threaded conversations.
However, enterprise customers that use Microsoft Exchange and ActiveSync to push Exchange e-mail to the smartphone already have a unified inbox on both platforms. By setting alternate e-mail accounts to deliver messages to the primary Exchange inbox by default, those messages are then synced with Exchange, and delivered to the smartphone along with the rest of the Exchange messages.
• Apps. The Apple App Store has about 200,000 apps--a four to one advantage over the 50,000 apps available in the Android Market. It is debatable whether or not that matters. Certainly 200,000 is more than 50,000, but even 50,000 is a ridiculous number of apps. The core apps used for business productivity can probably be boiled down to a couple hundred, so odds are fair that you can find an "app for that" on either platform.
• Flash. Apple is not allowing Adobe Flash on the IOS4 platform. Much of the video content and interactive advertising on the Web is Flash-based, so the lack of Flash can be a handicap for IOS4. Adobe did announce a partnership with Greystripe to deliver Flash-based ads as HTML5 on the iPhone and iPad, but much of the Flash content on the Web will be inaccessible.
Android 2.2 does support Flash, and the Adobe Flash Player 10.1 beta for Android 2.2 is now available.
Point: Android 2.2
• Hotspot. With IOS4, tethering is now enabled from the iPhone to enable the Internet connection to be shared by other devices. However, AT&T is charging $20 a month extra just for the privilege of having the option to connect another device, and the iPad supposedly will be unable to tether with the iPhone.
Android 2.2 devices are capable of acting as mobile wi-fi hotspots. Up to eight devices can share the wi-fi connection of the Android 2.2 smartphone. Whether or not there are additional charges for the hotspot functionality, or how sharing the Internet connection will impact the data consumption and data plan charges may vary from carrier to carrier.
Point: Android 2.2
For IT Administrators
• Availability. IOS4 will be available as a free platform update for existing iPhone 3G, iPhone 3GS, and iPod Touch devices later this month. When the iPhone 4 launches on June 24 it will also be equipped with IOS4. Apple has only one hardware platform and only one supported OS version, so there is more stability and consistency in terms of managing the devices.
Android is a much more fragmented platform. Android 2.2 has been rolled out to the Nexus One, and is expected to be officially available on other platforms "soon". However some Android smartphones may never get the update.
• Diversity. IOS4--or more specifically the iPhone it runs on--is only available from one wireless carrier--AT&T. It is also only available on one form factor. There are slight variations between the iPhone 3G, iPhone 3GS, and upcoming iPhone 4--but for all intents and purposes it is the same hardware platform.
For businesses that are already contracted with another carrier--like Verizon, or Sprint, or T-Mobile, IOS4 is not an option. Organizations that want a physical keyboard, or a different form factor will appreciate the diversity of smartphone hardware available running Android.
Point: Android 2.2
• Management Tools. The iPhone has generally been perceived as a consumer gadget first and foremost. However, Apple revolutionized the game, and more or less erased the line between consumer and business when it comes to smartphones. Over time, Apple has developed a fair set of tools for IT administrators to be able to provision, deploy, monitor, and manage iPhones in the enterprise. Apple has also made strides in strengthening the security of the iPhone.
There are third-party management frameworks such as Good for Enterprise that enable IT administrators to manage Android devices, but by itself Android is still playing catch up in the enterprise tools department.
So, that leaves us with three points for IOS4, three points for Android 2.2, and one tie. The bottom line, though, is that "best" or even "better" is a subjective measurement tainted by opinion and personal preference. As noted, in some cases where the company is already under contract with a given wireless provider, the decision may be more or less dictated by what's available from that carrier.
In selecting a smartphone platform for the enterprise, IT administrators and business professionals need to keep these factors in mind, but these are by no means the only factors. Signal strength for a given carrier in your region, whether or not the smartphone will work globally for users that travel frequently, how the smartphones fit with any data protection or information security compliance requirements, and a myriad of other factors must also be taken into consideration in order to determine what is "better" or "best" for your unique situation.