Smart phones, having firmly established themselves in the consumer market, are now finding their way into the hands of finance executives who are using them for work. Three major contenders are worth comparing. Two of them (RIM’s BlackBerry and Apple’s iPhone) feature proprietary hardware and software (meaning it’s all controlled by RIM and Apple); Google’s Android operating system (OS) runs on many different phones (made by LG, HTC, Samsung, Motorola, etc.). So Android offers a lot more options, but it also brings into play myriad vendors essentially selling the same product, creating distinctions without differences.
RIM’s BlackBerry has been the corporate standard for many years, mainly due to its security features (such as the ability to remotely wipe its memory if lost, something you can’t do as easily with an iPhone) and its user-friendly thumb keyboard. But RIM has let its BlackBerry OS fall behind and is still trying to play catch-up. The release of OS 6 for the BlackBerry introduced a refined, faster Web browser, but still no Adobe Flash support (none in the brand-new OS 7 either), which makes some Websites unbrowsable. Integrating your BlackBerry with your corporate e-mail requires spending money on back-end hardware and software, unless you plan on switching to a hosted e-mail solution such as Google Apps. Another downside is the relative lack of cool BlackBerry apps. On the plus side, most BlackBerries still feature that thumb keyboard that appeals to users who enjoy writing lengthy e-mails on the road. Also, BlackBerry boasts the longest battery life of all the smart phones, and that’s a good thing.
Apple’s iPhone is a cultural phenomenon; it kick-started the smart-phone revolution. Its appeal is universal — except in the corporate world, where it hasn’t had much penetration save for high-tech companies or with fashion-conscious users. Apple’s iOS for the iPhone is a closed, proprietary system, which for some is a bonus, because theoretically it can’t be hacked by bad guys. However, it leaves others yearning for the customization and rapid app development the Android system provides. Still, as far as usability goes, you can’t get much simpler than the iPhone’s clean, straightforward interface. And now with the iPhone available on two carriers (AT&T and Verizon), and with Sprint coming on board with the iPhone 5, users have more choices among carriers. The Apple App Store boasts tens upon thousands of apps (not all of them variations on Angry Birds) for most every business use imaginable. Plus, the iPhone is coveted for the fact that when you whip it out, people go, “Ooooh.”
Google’s Android platform is the nerdy counterpart to Apple’s iOS. Spanning several hardware platforms (the aforementioned HTC, LG, Motorola, Samsung, etc.), Android is an open-source free-for-all that also features a healthy App Market with thousands of apps and an expanding user base. Androids are business-friendly but lack the reliability and security of the BlackBerry and the status and simplicity of the iPhone. And try managing a business environment in which everyone is attempting to access corporate data and manipulate it — not to mention share it — with radically different devices. Seriously. Try it.
But Google’s recent announcement of its intention to acquire Motorola Mobility leads one to think that Android will likely expand its security options, develop on a more homogenous platform, and become more corporate-friendly. We’ve already seen improvements in Android security in the past few months.
So, for you old-school, hard-keyboard, security-conscious users, the BlackBerry is what you’ll be most comfortable with. But understand that by choosing it, you may be marginalizing yourself. Besides offering more apps, both the iPhone and the Android are just more fun to use. And if you think the smart phone eventually will replace the PC as the key platform for business computing (as HP apparently did when it announced it was getting out of the computer business), you’ll need a phone you like, not one you’ll merely use.