When I speak with an enterprise application vendor about their mobile strategy there is always the perfunctory question about which platforms they support. As I interviewed companies for my upcoming paper on Mobile CRM: The Evolution of CRM Systems, a pattern emerged. It is not a new one. I saw the same pattern every time I spoke with a vendor about mobile application support for social collaboration, social media marketing, project management, ERP, etc. over the course of the past 18 months. It goes something like this:
- Apple iOS is the first choice of software vendors. As an ardent Android user, it pains me to say it but Apple is where most enterprise mobile applications begin life. Let’s face it, the Apple mobile operating system has two distinct advantages. First, it was the first widespread, viable mobile device platform adopted by business people. That means that software vendors, including enterprise application vendors, have a lot of expertise in developing applications for Apple devices. The second advantage is the single, controlled environment. Unlike Android, iOS is only available on Apple branded phones and tablets (iPhone and iPad) with a tightly controlled ecosystem. While that may have disadvantages for vendors, such as extra cost and being kept on a short lease by Apple, it makes the actual development more predictable.
- Android is hot on the heels of Apple. Even though Android followed iOS into the market, one would think that by now most developers would begin with Android if only because of its huge share of the market. One would think so except for the problem of Android fragmentation. Android is not really a single operating system. Instead, it is a base operating system that is modified by device manufacturers to fit the unique architecture of their devices. On top of that, many vendors modify the user interface to make it more unique or add (presumably) useful applications and widgets. Finally, there are a number of versions of the base Android system that are still in service. The result is potentially hundreds of combinations of base operating system and modifications. If a customer owns more than one device, an increasingly common occurrence, they are assured of having as many versions of the Android OS as devices. The result for application vendors is a development and support nightmare. Apple’s monoculture is much easier to manage then the highly variable Android market. That said, developers are biting the bullet because Android devices are proliferating like kudzu.
- Windows Phone 8 and Windows RT are “under consideration.” With the exception of Microsoft themselves, most vendors say that they are thinking about adding Windows Phone 8 and Windows RT applications to their product mix. In general, they are waiting for customers to demand it. Except that customers will not buy mobile devices unless they support their most important applications. As long as software vendors hold off developing Windows mobile applications, customers will stick to Android and iOS. Vendors of enterprise applications are, in effect, listening for market demand that they themselves are suppressing. This is a pity since most business users I’ve spoken to like and recommend their Windows mobile devices, both tablets and smartphones.
- BlackBerry is in an application death spiral. Poor BlackBerry. Along with Palm OS phones, BlackBerry (called Research in Motion at the time) was the forerunner of modern smartphone. Things have worked out for them about as well as they have for Palm. Alas, neither of them understood what the touch screen capable Apple iPhone represented. Now, even longtime supporters of the BlackBerry devices and operating system are phasing out development for what was once the business mobile device. Losing business application support spells the death knell for BlackBerry.
There are a number of alternative mobile operating systems that are on the horizon including the upcoming Firefox OS from the Mozilla Foundation. It’s unlikely that any of these will have much impact in the business community. Almost all of these new mobile operating systems are targeted at low cost consumer devices. More important to their success will be whether Facebook supports them. For the business application customer, it’s going to be an Apple-Android world with maybe a bit of Windows.