Android for business? 5 reasons to think again

When business users ask about Android, I tell them to ask again when the flowers bloom. Here's why.

Businesses considering Android as a corporate handset standard should consider the decision carefully, because it may prove hard to justify later on.

Recent reports that Google's handset operating system is gaining momentum are a bit troubling, for there are still many reasons to recommend against it for businesses users.

That isn't to say the Motorola Droid isn't impressive, even if it operates more like a computer than an iPhone. And the forthcoming Google Nexus One is threatening to break new ground in a number of areas, including using VOIP to carry all voice calls over the data network.

Here are five reasons why I am telling businesses not to invest in Android quite yet:

1. All Android isn't alike (and won't be). Most people think Android is like Windows, in that all Windows apps can run on all Windows PCs. Experts tell me--since I am not a coder--that Android can be a very different programming target from one handset to the next.

The hope is that manufacturer-specific changes to the user interface and other elements of the OS won't make applications hard to develop and harder to use. However, aren't such changes what being open source is all about?

Right now, the Motorola Droid is the Android standard-bearer. Next month, that torch may be passed to Google's Nexus One. Maybe the Nexus One will help consolidate the platform, offering assurances that every Android application really will run on every Android device.

My bet is this will be a fairy tale. While Android may be used on any number of devices, I don't expect all Android applications to run equally well or be as useful on each and every one of them.

This may end up being much ado about not very much, but if I were thinking about buying a few dozen Android phones, I would be planning to wait until next spring to see how the market starts to settle out.

2. Compatibility with business applications is also key. BlackBerry and Windows Mobile are big corporate handsets because they know how to talk to big corporate infrastructure. If your needs are simple, then any smartphone will do. If your business is running on Microsoft, then Windows Mobile or BlackBerry (especially) are the obvious choices. If you are running a Mac business, then the iPhone is the best option.

How long will it be before Android devices work as well with Microsoft Exchange (all semi-current versions) as WinMo and BlackBerry do? How long before Android handsets offer corporate-grade security and other features? Could be a while. Why take a chance?

However, if your company is thinking about moving to Google Apps, then the Nexus One might make that decision easier. We won't know until it's released, however, how the Nexus One tries to advantage itself over the Droid.

3. Applications are an issue, though not quite as much as you may have heard. I have already mentioned compatibility issues, so here I will talk numbers. There does not need to be one-to-one applications parity between Android and iPhone for the Google OS to be credible. Especially for business users who don't need a zillion gaming options.

4. User interface is still a concern. My hope is that Android will bring us a bunch of handsets that have almost identical interfaces, so using one Android phone is pretty much like using another.

I see Android splitting into various factions, which might include handsets that use Android but hide it as a means of developing a mostly proprietary device. There will also be some number of "true" Android handsets that are intended to run a large number of Android applications and, perhaps, offer a similar UI to all the others. (As the various Windows Mobile devices do).

In this portion of the market, the Nexus One may be the design center that other Android handsets will gravitate toward. In which case, why would any business user purchase a Droid?

5. My last comment is that the Android OS, as expressed on the Droid, still needs UI help. Using a Droid feels to me much more like using a small PC than a handset. That may be fine for some people but feels terribly strange to an iPhone user like myself. The iPhone experience feels integrated, where the Droid is a tad clunky by comparison.

Although I am an iPhone user, I would not want to make it an enterprise standard. That is why I am recommending business customers, if possible, give the Android market some time to calm down and mature a bit.

Android is still a very new operating system and it is too early for most companies to make a large investment in it. Delay if you can, or hang with BlackBerry or Windows Mobile if you must buy now.

David Coursey has been writing about technology products and companies for more than 25 years. He tweets as @techinciter and may be contacted via his Web site.

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