So an iPhone user tries out Windows Phone 8.1...

...and comes away impressed by Microsoft's latest mobile OS

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Although Microsoft has advantages, it's difficult to see Windows Phone displacing the iPhone as the corporate or BYOD device of choice in the near term. In most markets, Windows Phone has a minimal market share (though adoption is higher in Europe than the U.S.) and, according to some reports, the platform may have actually lost some market share.

Apple's smartphone market share, on the other hand, is signficant (albeit behind Android in most markets) and the company has been steadily gaining ground. Under Tim Cook's tenure as CEO, Apple has come to focus more and more on the needs of its enterprise customers -- both the individual users and the IT professionals that support them.

With iOS 7, the company signficantly ratcheted up its management and security capabilities, created a new mobile app licensing mechanism, and, in iOS 7.1, introduced a volume configuration and deployment model. That model allows IT to bulk enroll and manage iPhones and iPads without needing to physically work with each device. The company also recently released additional enterprise deployment and security guides for IT teams.

Email and Accounts section
The Email and Accounts section of Windows Phone 8.1 (dark theme).

More recently, Apple highlighted the diversity of enterprise apps in major enterprise companies including Deutsche Bank, Siemens, Eli Lilly and FedEx, each of which had created a dozen or more enterprise iOS apps for employees. That's no small investment and it will almost certainly encourage companies that have adopted iOS to continue to view the platform as their primary mobile OS.

Microsoft could leapfrog over Android in the enterprise

While Apple has managed to carve out a big part of the enterprise mobility market, Android hasn't. Although Android is supported to one extent or another in many workplaces, it presents a unique set of challenges for enterprise IT shops. Most Android devices do not run the most recent, and therefore most secure, version of Android. Because Google allows manufacturers and carriers to control so much of the upgrade process, patches and even whole major releases may never reach some devices, causing a major security concern even when EMM (enterprise mobility management) and mobile security solutions are employed.

Android is also not designed to be a closed and secure system like iOS and manufacturers can modify the OS in significant ways. Samsung is trying to use this freedom to create an enterprise-grade version of Android using its KNOX and SAFE programs; other Android manufacturers have made some strides in the same direction. The problem is that manufacturers rely on different security APIs, making consistent universal security and management a challenge.

While it's hard to see Windows Phone grabbing Android's consumer market share, the platform's new level of polish and extended feature set put it on par with iOS and Android. Given the advantages Windows Phone has in the enterprise market -- and the general impression that Android may be too big a challenge to manage effectively -- it's not inconceivable that with enough growth and encouragement from IT, the OS could gain a strong foothold in enterprise organizations and outpace Android adoption over time.

It's also worth noting that, like Apple, Microsoft has kept stricter control of the Windows Phone update process than has Google. That is a major factor and could become even more significant now that Microsoft has completed its acquisition of Nokia's mobile phone business.

Adhering to the mobile-first, cloud-first ethic

Windows Phone 8.1 and Microsoft's EMS, combined with the release of Office for iPad, highlight the company's strategy of being mobile-first and delivering enterprise-grade capabilities across the realistic range of mobile computing in the workplace.Offering a compelling experience, a relatively easy transition from iPhone or Android and a feature-complete mobile OS could help Windows Phone gain the traction that has pretty much eluded the platform since its introduction.

Ryan Faas is a freelance writer and technology consultant specializing in Mac and multiplatform network issues. He has been a Computerworld columnist since 2003 and is a frequent contributor to CITEworld.com. Faas is also the author of iPhone for Work (Apress, 2009). You can find out more about him at RyanFaas.com and follow him on Twitter (@ryanfaas).

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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