Android vs. iPhone: Business loses either way

The battle to win users' hearts -- and wallets -- has one clear loser: IT

Here's an ad you'll never see: "The new Verizon (or T-Mobile or Sprint or AT&T) smartphone: Your IT department's best friend." After all, the smartphone wars have been about the consumer for some time now, promising more features, more fun, more glitz.

Despite earlier reservations, I've come to love my iPhone, especially when visiting a part of the country -- New York City comes to mind -- where AT&T's much maligned 3G network actually works. But when it comes to business environments, the iPhone falls short. In fact, with the exception of the BlackBerry (which isn't much fun), the smartphone as a class appears to be putting the needs of enterprise users and the IT jockeys laboring to protect enterprise security firmly in the backseat.

[ Find out Android 2.0's real odds of unseating the iPhone in "Android 2.0: The iPhone killer at last?" | Find business-oriented iPhone apps the easy way with InfoWorld's online app finder. | See the 21 apps Apple doesn't want on your iPhone. ]

Indeed, something ugly is under way. IT has the same responsibility for security and network management it's always had, but armed with powerful and relatively cheap smartphones, users increasingly have the power to circumvent those policies, says Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney.

And it will only get worse. Smartphones now account for 14 percent of overall mobile device sales, but by 2012 they will make up around 37 percent of global handset sales, according to a recent Gartner report. You'll see PC makers jumping into the fray, the Android platform will take off, and the battle will continue to be about consumer-oriented features -- not business readiness.

That's great news for consumers, who will benefit from competition-driven innovation and, hopefully, lower costs. But for the hardworking folks in the trenches of network management? "IT will be in a losing battle, blamed for things it can't control," says Dulaney.

IT security: All about the image
Notebooks and desktops, says Dulaney, "are typically managed by restricting the choices that users have by reducing the number of software images. This standards-based process ensures control by reducing flexibility." But try maintaining that system when users can buy a relatively cheap smartphone with as much power as a desktop had in the early 1990s.

"Furthermore, attempts by IT organizations to prevent the use of handheld devices has largely failed because of the number of tools [available] to work around IT policies. For example, users who are restricted from using wireless e-mail often find ways to redirect e-mail to outside ISP services, where they synchronize e-mail to their personally owned devices. This raises the security threat for enterprises because it means that control of e-mail routing has been lost," Dulaney says.

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