Smart Money: Where There's Mobility, There's Margin

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As Apple and Android duke it out on the consumer end of the mobility spectrum, two other companies are chipping away on the business end.

BlackBerry once owned the smartphone market but has fallen on difficult times as its keyboard-based devices were eclipsed by touch-screen devices such as the iPhone. Black- Berry is making a comeback play with its new BlackBerry 10 operating system and new touch-based smartphones.

iCorps' Lauria said BlackBerry is still a popular choice in certain verticals such as financial services and legal services, which have a greater focus on compliance issues and regulations. "For companies that really need to keep track of their emails and IMs and data, BlackBerry 10 is a strong option," he said.

But if employees are given the option of choosing their own smartphones, Lauria said, the vast majority will choose between the iPhone and an Android device. "BlackBerry still has a strong brand in the corporate market," Lauria said, "but that's not who's buying the devices now."

If BlackBerry smartphones aren't winning over users, then how is BlackBerry staying in the game? The company has made a strong push in the MDM software market with its BlackBerry Enterprise Service 10 and Black- Berry Secure Workspace for Android and Apple devices, and Lauria believes the company has a strong future there. But the MDM push, especially with Secure Workspace, could work against BlackBerry's smartphone business by giving Android and Apple devices more protection and thus eliminating a key differentiator for BlackBerry 10 devices. Microsoft, meanwhile, has a different dilemma. While Microsoft has the desktop monopoly, the software giant hasn't been able to translate that to success in the mobile world just yet. Windows Phone is battling BlackBerry for the third spot behind Android and iOS, and the smartphone platform has shown some signs of life lately; IDC reported Windows Phone shipments jumped more than 133 percent in the first quarter and surpassed BlackBerry for the third spot in the mobile OS smarket. Even with Microsoft's recent struggles with Surface and its mobile push, the company has a large partner base that's committed to making Windows 8 a success. Toronto-based Evron Computer Systems is one such partner.

"We recommend Windows 8 and Windows Phone for all of our mobile device deployments," Amit "Sunny" Sahni, vice president and CTO at Evron, said. "We have a strong mobility practice with a full-service management solution that works with Apple, BlackBerry and Android, but we recommend Windows to our clients especially if they're already a Windowsbased business."

Sahni said he's frustrated by Microsoft's channel strategy for its own Surface line of tablets (Microsoft has restricted Surface authorizations to just 10 U.S. large account resellers so far), but that hasn't deterred him from promoting other Windows 8 tablets and hybrid devices.

Tropical Computer Consultants, Hobe Sound, Fla., is another Microsoft partner. James Elkins, president and owner of Tropical Computer Consultants, is a believer in Windows 8 and recommends the operating system on tablets for clients because of its security features and business-class functionality. But Elkins admits that in the tablet world, Windows 8 can be an uphill battle because, despite its attributes, Microsoft's OS is lacking when it comes to the actual platform experience. "Windows 8 tablets may be more functional from a business standpoint," Elkins said, "but the ease of use and interface aren't nearly as good as Android."

Elkins has seen strong sales of Lenovo's Windows 8-based ThinkPad Tablet 2, for example, but overall, the consumerization of IT is driving more people toward iPad and Android tablets. "You can tell customers that Windows 8 tablets are more functional than iPads or Android devices, but they don't care," Elkins said. "They like using those devices, and they think they can get by with them from a business standpoint."

As for the integration advantage of having a complete Windows environment, solution providers say that's less of a factor as well. Colorado Computer Support's Schwank said there are plenty of software tools and MDM platforms—not to mention expert solution providers—that can bridge the gap between a Windows office environment and different mobile OSes. "There are challenges with any platform, but you don't have to have Windows devices if you have a Windows office environment," Schwank said. "In this day and age, most things play together."

NEXT: Device Dilemma

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