The battle-lines between Windows and Android are evolving. Robert Dent, CEO of 1st Touch, is positioned in the middle of the fray and throws down a gauntlet to Android device manufacturers.
First, to declare an interest – the 1st Touch mobile platform which is used to create, configure and provide integration capabilities for mobile applications has been developed to support outputs for multiple mobile platforms, plus we have partnerships with companies like Microsoft, Motorola and Intermec as well as with software organisations such as Sybase, Soti, and ALK (Co-Pilot) which provide basic mobile infrastructure elements.
So, as a platform-neutral vendor in the mobile market, we can see an interesting dynamic developing which is causing debate in some quarters. This is the emergence of Android solutions which are thrown into sharp relief when compared with technologies such as Windows Mobile 6.5 (Microsoft’s ‘line of business’ embedded handheld operating system).
There is a lot of interest in Android-type solutions and yet in a number of areas they just do not offer some of the features found in major operating systems such as Microsoft Windows Handheld. Strikingly, not everybody realises this at a user level but it does seem to have been picked up by some industry analysts, with Gartner commenting, ‘Choose Windows Mobile over Android for ruggedized handsets’.
We decided to look further into the reasoning behind these and other comparatively forthright views on the subject. The general feeling is that Windows Mobile 6.5 is the market leader for the delivery of applications on rugged and semi-rugged mobile devices, as used in mobile working rather than consumer environments.
Indeed, Microsoft has been delivering software in this market since 2000 and the first release of Windows Mobile was in 2003. In addition, it has restructured its operations to bring the Windows Mobile 6.5 mobility team into the Windows Embedded group, leaving the Windows Phone 7 team focused on consumer markets. To boost confidence in this move, Microsoft announced a ten-year commitment to maintain and support the Windows Mobile 6.5 platform – that seems straightforward enough and something that we and our customers can take into account.
In contrast, the Android platform is open source and at a fairly early stage in its development. At the moment, the platform does not provide the API access, security or device management requirements needed for complex mobile enterprise applications. Nor does there seem to be any unified or satisfactory momentum to address this.
To provide a baseline platform similar to Windows Mobile 6.5, the Android platform would require 8-10 additional add-ons, all of which would be provided by different software suppliers. Even at this stage though, there would not be the API access capability found in Windows Mobile 6.5. Also having reviewed what is available, we have discovered that some of these suppliers are very small, some being virtually ‘one-man bands’.
While we are aware that a very attractive demonstration could be done on the Android platform, it is far harder to look beyond this facade to see the struggling, or at times lacking, support issues or unconvincing SLAs. We also think that it is very unlikely that a robust Android enterprise solution could developed (as things stand) that could be relied on for everyday use.
However, recognising that things do change and evolve with time, we are doing ongoing R&D around the Android platform and keeping an eye on who the market leaders will be for third-party add-ons.
And there’s the rub – the other determinant of change is, of course, the device dynamic. Historically, it has been difficult to provide a consistent device platform for enterprise mobile applications as the device manufacturers provide upgrades and refreshes to devices on 60/90-day cycles to ensure continual consumer-driven upgrades. This has been expensive and time-consuming for organisations who want an enterprise-class mobile deployment that includes these devices.
Now that Microsoft has shown its commitment to Windows Mobile 6.5, two global device manufacturers have partnered with Microsoft to provide semi-rugged devices that will support Windows Mobile 6.5 and have a rolling 5-7 year life and support plan. This will provide a much stronger platform for those organisations needing an enterprise-class mobile deployment. These devices are Motorola’s ES400 and Intermec’s CS40 and these are the semi-rugged devices that we would recommend for mobile applications, although there are tougher devices available from both suppliers if needed.
However, over the next 12-18 months it is likely that some mobile client platforms such as Android will provide additional functionality and support for semi-rugged enterprise mobility and the current concerns will be abated. From our own point of view we would certainly take note of this and, as a platform-neutral vendor, we would then deploy mobile software solutions to these client platforms too. The gauntlet then is very much thrown into the Android camp.
Robert Dent is CEO of 1st Touch.