Enterprise Mobile, with Microsoft’s Blessing, Moves Beyond Windows Phones

5/11/10Follow @wroush

I’m going to start this article in a way that’s pretty unfair to Mort Rosenthal—the founding CEO of Enterprise Mobile in Watertown, MA—by referring to some things Rosenthal told me back in early 2008 about the leading smartphone platforms.

At the time, Enterprise Mobile was just setting out on its mission to help big companies deploy Windows Mobile phones to their workers. Rosenthal argued then that Windows Mobile was the “only player” for companies looking to run business applications on smartphones. But in the intervening two years—with the support of its sole investor, Microsoft— Enterprise Mobile has grown into a non-denominational outfit, helping customers with iPhones, BlackBerry phones, Android phones, and Palm/WebOS devices in addition to Windows phones. And today Rosenthal has much nicer things to say about all of those platforms.

Of course, Rosenthal couldn’t have predicted how drastically the smartphone business was about to change. And if we knew we’d be held responsible for all our past statements and opinions, we’d probably venture a lot fewer of them. But contrasting Rosenthal’s diagnoses of the various smartphone platforms in 2008 with those from my recent check-in with him is an enlightening exercise, because it underscores just how much the mobile landscape has shifted in a short time.

Rosenthal on the iPhone then: “For one thing, it’s just not a very good phone. And it’s far from being enterprise-ready. It doesn’t do enterprise e-mail. There is no security. Plenty of our customers think it’s cool—but none of them would ever think about adopting it.”

Mobile PlatformsOn the iPhone now: “What was true then and what is true now are quite different. Apple has done a very good job of listening. They are probably better listeners than most companies who have been in the enterprise space for a long time. We’ve been part of that, making sure we are yelling in their ear. But they have evolved the iPhone platform into something that is pretty darn enterprise-ready. It is ahead of BlackBerry, even. The pivotal thing was the release of iPhone 3.0 [Apple's June 2009 operating system upgrade], which allows for very good Exchange [e-mail management] integration as well as the adoption of policies on the iPhone. Before that, customers who were doing iPhone were doing it with a fair amount of risk, and after that the risk was mitigated.”

BlackBerry then: “Interesting, and has a stronger business following…But lately they seem to be trying to make it into a general-purpose consumer device. They got rid of the thumb wheel, which was the best thing about it. They’re trying to make it look sexier-but at the end of the day, they’ve made it less useful.”

BlackBerry now: “I certainly run into BlackBerry users who still regret not having the thumbwheel. That said, a lot of people have adopted the trackball, and now there is the touch pad. BlackBerry remains a very solid enterprise citizen. Most of their growth has come from the consumer side, but they remain the incumbent in the enterprise space. We are seeing an awful lot of companies that have 10,000 BlackBerrys starting to deploy, say, 1,000 or 2,000 iPhones as replacement devices, and probably over time iPhones and other devices are likely to replace more and more BlackBerrys, just because BlackBerry is extremely useful for what it’s good at [namely e-mail management], but it isn’t necessarily the sexiest device, nor does it provide the most compelling user experience.”

Android then: “Interesting…but if it’s all about advertising-supported services, that’s not compatible with enterprise functions.”

Android now: “At this point, the advertising-driven things with Android haven’t really materialized. The issue with Android is the diversity and fragmentation of the platform. The iPhone is an iPhone—it is a singular environment, and there is a very narrow diversity of SKUs [stock keeping units, meaning models of phones]. In Android, all of the Motorola devices are different from the HTC devices, for example, and they are differentially enterprise-ready. This is a known bug in the … Next Page »

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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