Android, iOS, Windows mobile OS war a positive for customers

Which mobile OS is best for your enterprise? IT pro Michael Thomason took a deep dive this week with the three leaders -- Android, iOS and Windows Phone -- and found pros and cons for all, which in the end means customers have real choices.

BOSTON -- When considering mobile operating systems for the enterprise, it's possible to think of the three major players as individuals with different styles, advantages and faults.

In these terms, Apple's iOS is a sharply-dressed, dashing man-about-town, Google's Android is a punk rocker, while Microsoft's Windows Phone dresses in business casual attire, according to Michael Thomason, lead system architect at Emory Healthcare in Atlanta.

During a presentation here this week at BriForum 2014, Thomason explained the differences between the three mobile operating systems (OS) that make up most of the 2.4 billion smartphones and tablets -- 1.1 billion Android, 333 million Windows, 271 million iOS/Macintosh -- expected to ship worldwide this year, according to a Gartner report this month.

Here is how Thomason explained iOS, Android and Windows Phone:

The users just want access to their applications.
Michael Thomasonlead system architect, Emory Healthcare

IOS: Apple's OS wears the suit and tie because iOS can only run on Apple hardware, giving it a well put-together advantage over Google and Microsoft. All iPhones are similar to run and manage, living within what Thomason called the "Apple garden" -- which can be a nice place to live.

"If I'm managing mobile devices, I would much rather know what I'm getting into than I don't," Thomason said.

However, that level of consistency comes at a higher price point per device over its competitors, or as Thomason called it, "the Apple tax."

"But what you get out of this is a very polished user experience," Thomason said.

Apple iOS 8 will include a number of enterprise controls and management options for IT when it is released this fall; however IT still has plenty of concerns over just how those new options will work.

Android: While iOS probably enjoys an evening at a classy piano bar, Android likely prefers a grimy basement rock club for its nighttime entertainment. But the completely open-source "mobile Linux" Android platform isn't necessarily a bad thing, according to Thomason.

Because Google Android runs on a variety of hardware, there is a lower entry price point and many more device options than the competition.

"You can pick up [an Android] tablet, and granted it's not going to be as quality as the iPad, for $50," Thomason said.

While the application capabilities for Android are broad, with options like widgets, nearly all the Android applications are developed in Java, with a user interface that "doesn't look and feel as crisp" as those for other operating systems, according to Thomason.

Another issue with the open source OS is that support comes solely from the hardware vendor, as opposed to Apple where the hardware and software vendor are the same. This is similar to the PC-era, when enterprises relied on hardware vendors like Dell and HP for support on their Windows-based systems, Thomason said.

Android's operating system fragmentation within the enterprise is something Google will try to address later this year with Android L's anticipated built-in management infrastructure.

Windows Phone: Microsoft is working toward a single-OS for its desktops and mobile devices, something Apple has mostly avoided -- with some new integrations expected with iOS 8 and Mac OS X Yosemite for desktops.

The consistent hardware experience of "doing things the Microsoft way" is an advantage for Windows mobile OS, Thomason said. There is tight integration with Microsoft's existing technologies, which are often legacy applications within enterprises, so enterprises may be able to run existing applications on Windows Phone without much issue.

However, Microsoft was "very slow to the market" with its mobile offerings, Thomason said. Things remain in a state of turmoil with Microsoft scaling back its Nokia investment by eliminating a large chunk of its workforce there.

Tying it all together: For one OS to win, the others don't have to lose, according to Thomason. The systems have similar qualities and faults, but in the end, user satisfaction is a key component of what enterprises must consider.

"The users just want access to their applications," Thomason said. "The first to market is not always the market leader."

What users want, in terms of applications or devices, plus cost and security considerations, are important factors to consider when it comes to mobile OSes in the enterprise, according to Thomason.

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