Managed viz-a-viz Un-managed Mobile Platforms

We have heard that on the enterprise IT front, it is more advantageous to have managed desktops, i.e. the standard desktop is a pre-tested set of hardware configuration, installed with a standard suite of approved/tested applications, with policies governing how a managed desktop should be used. There are also some formal processes and expectations for the quality/stability of the software that can be installed. i.e. some quality control was applied before it can be deployed on managed desktops.

On one hand, these managed platform can be easier to manage, usually more secured, and therefore lower support efforts and costs per seat, especially if the number of devices/PC are large. On the other hand, experienced users or power users will experience a “hands-are-tied” situation, where they could not install their productivity tools to allow them to work effectively. And there are also a myriad of connectivity software such as iTunes, Zune, Nokia PC Suite, etc for user’s mobile devices, which are useful for users to connect to their mobile device, but is sometimes frowned upon by IT management as they may not be considered as “official” device supported by the company.

So, it can be a challenge as far as balancing manageability (company) and flexibility (user). One possible way as far as policy is concerned, is to have a hybrid: a “standard” application suite which are supported and updated regular via software distribution mechanism, and a suite of application which are “not supported”. This means that if these software cause problems now or in the future (newer versions), the user will have to figure out the problem and resolve them on their own. In the worse case scenario, the offending application causing instability will be removed from the PC/notebook to ensure continuity.

On the mobile front, there seemed to be similar train of thoughts.  I just want to focus on the two major and popular platforms so far – Android (50%) and iOS (30%). Of course, we also see other mobile platforms, such as the Blackberry OS and Windows 8 for mobile platform, but their market-share is less than 20% combined as compared to the two major platforms. (See info below)

Platform – Market Share (%)
Google – 50.1%
Apple – 30.2%
RIM – 13.4%
Microsoft – 3.9%
Symbian – 1.5%

On one hand, you have the “managed” device, the iOS platform, which is tightly controlled by Apple to ensure “quality” and “stability” of the platform. Hardware-wise, the technical specifications are fixed and controlled by Apple; the OS is tuned to optimally work with the hardware, and the software distribution is controlled via the Appstore. Prior to publishing in the appstore, Apple does screening of the applications to ensure they possess a certain level of “stability” and meets the guidelines set out by Apple (see here). This creates a barrier for tech “wannabes”, who are experimenting and playing with the SDKs, often times creating poorly designed (in terms of GUI and software architecture) and poorly coded applications and putting them into the Appstore.

On the other hand, you have the “un-managed” device, which is the Android platform. The platform is loosely controlled. Hardware-wise, you will find a host of different configuration ranging from screen technology and resolution, to physical form factor/sizes, to choice of type and number of cores in the mobile processors (recently Intel just got its Intel Medfield CPU 1.6 GHz Intel® Atom™ processing into the XOLO X900, released in India), and storage sizes. The Android OS can be tuned for generic situations, but hardly can be optimized for each combination of hardware and screen, not to mention the OS versions available (Gingerbread, Honeycomb, ICS). Software distribution is via Google Market, which is centralised, but there are “quality control issues” (see here) as far as the satisfaction and stability is concerned, since wannabes could access the platform more easily than the Appstore.

There are no perfect solution to this long-time issue. There are various complex considerations when the platform owners decide on which model their platform will adopt. Software piracy, revenue, stability, speed, responsiveness, security, usability and user experience are some of these considerations. Perhaps in the near future, we would developments that would close the gaps between the two type of platforms, such that Android gets less fragmented and Apple opening up more. Until then, in the mean-time, typical consumers have to make the choice between these 2 types of mobile computing platforms, and play by the  “rules” of these platforms, unless, of course, you are a jail-breaker, which may change the game. Then again, you better pray the iOS device does not brick on you when it is jailbroken, lest warranty is void.


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