The Long March of Androids to the Enterprise

T-Mobile’s Tuesday announcement that it will offer a new Android smartphone in August has raised interest in the possibility of greater competition for enterprise adoption.

The new Android-powered smartphone, the myTouch 3G, will come loaded with a 3.5-inch touchscreen, a 3.5-megapixel camera and a preinstalled 4-GB microSD memory card. However, these consumer-oriented features may not be enough to meet the enterprise expectations for security and task integration set by BlackBerry smartphones.

“A lot of new smartphones are coming out — all of this is driving innovation. But enterprise adoption is a slightly different ball of wax,” Ramon Llamas, senior research analyst for IDC, told LinuxInsider.

Android’s Strengths

T-Mobile’s myTouch 3G has a sleek case with a contoured feel. Its array of new features builds on its popular predecessor, the G1, but a virtual keyboard replaces the G1’s hardware keypad.

The new Android smartphone offers users the ability to customize menus, wallpapers and icons. Plus, thousands of Android Market applications could provide competition for the Apple iPhone’s vast app arsenal; enterprises might find the Android alternatives worthy of consideration.

Also, the myTouch 3G’s deep integration of Google services and the latest Android software might offer corporate decision makers more reasons to put it to work.

“The new Android, similar to the old Android, is very much consumer-oriented. In some cases, business users will bring in their own device — but Android is not quite there as a complete [business] solution,” said Llamas.

“That doesn’t mean that it won’t happen,” he continued, “but it is still in its initial stages.”

Corporate Readiness

Android technology does have potential for enterprise adoption, but the deployment of a smartphone model to replace or supplement existing corporate communications is a slow process.

“Policymakers stick with a decision and are slow to change devices due to the cost involved in replacing hardware,” said Neil Strother, an analyst for emerging marketing channels, marketing and advertising, and mobile marketing at Forrester Research.

From an enterprise standpoint, much more support exists for the BlackBerry than for iPhone or Android-powered units, he told LinuxInsider.

BlackBerry handsets provide business users with email and are much more secure than other phone options, he explained.

Business Needs

Network security is one of the most important considerations that IT managers face when deploying mobile phones to the workforce. Part of the problem for would-be BlackBerry competitors is that they have not really been marketed as an enterprise solution, according to Strother.

“IT people think differently than consumers,” he said. “Security is one factor. Integrity is another. It’s hard to test so many different devices in an enterprise.”

Before Android phones take root in corporate environments, it’s likely that workers will see a general acceptance of iPhones, Strother predicted. “When the demand side reaches a certain level, IT starts to consider newer devices.”

What It Will Take

For businesses, RIM’s BlackBerry devices are still the undisputed leaders. Up to now, Android has been more of a consumer play, said Gerry Purdy, chief mobile analyst for Frost & Sullivan.

“The Andorid team needs to focus on the needs of enterprises and focus on security,” Purdy told LinusInsider. “For instance, it needs password protection on the device, encryption and remote control.”

To be more suitable for enterprise tasks, both iPhones and Android smartphones need the ability to synchronize with Lotus Notes and Microsoft Exchange, he added. Those kinds of capabilities are what distinguishes consumer use from business use.

Some Traction

Both iPhones and Android-powered phones are starting to move in the enterprise direction, but it is likely that the journey will be long and winding.

Apple has increased security and added an Active Sync feature to the iPhone 3G S, making it more business-friendly, noted Purdy.

Android phone developers realize that the enterprise is a huge potential market.

T-Mobile’s myTouch 3G with Google gives businesses the ability to build their own applications, for example. “It was important for Google that Android start addressing these issues,” Purdy said.

To really make inroads into the enterprise, “it will take Google working with a carrier like T-Mobile and working with a device manufacturer,” he added. “It takes multiple parties to make an actual solution work.”

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