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Enterprise mobile devices and how the leaders stack up

When analyzing and comparing the seemingly endless options available for mobile devices, IT buyers should look at the device type, OS and security functions, among other criteria.

More vendors than ever sell smartphones and tablets now, with devices ranging in size and capabilities. Buyers trying to negotiate the maze of options can have a tough time deciding which devices might best suit their organizations. This article explores five criteria to consider when reviewing enterprise mobile devices and compares how the leading players measure up against each other in accordance with these essential criteria.

Criteria No. 1: Mobile device type

Most leading vendors offer both smartphones and tablets, with multiple models in each category. Apple has one of the simplest product lines: five iPhone models and three iPad models. Since the release of the iPhone X, the phones have been in a transitional period. The new edge-to-edge screen provides a larger display area than the iPhone 8 Plus, yet the phone is smaller in size. The Plus model is slated to update in 2018 and should have the edge-to-edge screen, resulting in a larger display area than the basic iPhone.

Android smartphone and tablet models are far more plentiful than Apple's and are available from a wide range of vendors, including Asus, BlackBerry, Google, Huawei, Lenovo, LG, Nokia, Samsung and Sony. For example, Samsung's most current Galaxy models include the Note 8, S8 and S8 Plus phones and the Book, Tab and View tablets.

In addition, the number of products can vary substantially from vendor to vendor. For instance, Google's latest phones include only the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL, with the Pixel C as the only tablet. Compare this to Asus, which offers eight ZenFone models and seven ZenPad models.

The Android numbers swell even more when taking into account the range of products per model. Sony includes 19 phones in its inventory, for example, and LG offers 172.

Although the majority of mobile devices run Android, iOS devices remain the clear leader in the enterprise.

Microsoft is in a league of its own. Although the company still sells its Lumia phones, which run the Windows 10 Mobile OS, Microsoft has all but thrown in the towel on its smartphone business. However, the company still offers the Surface Pro 2-in-1 tablet, which remains a strong contender in the enterprise.

BlackBerry also lives in its own world. Phones based on the BlackBerry OS have all but disappeared from the enterprise, but the company now offers several Android phones and is considering an Android tablet.

Criteria No. 2: OS platform

The OS running on a device can impact performance, manageability, security and the user experience. Fortunately, the latest releases of Android, iOS and Windows 10 are all very solid platforms that can deliver a quality user experience, while helping users stay productive.

Although the majority of mobile devices run Android, iOS devices remain the clear leader in the enterprise. Google and other Android vendors have been trying to compete, but the ball remains in Apple's court. Windows still has some presence in the enterprise, but not to a great degree, and BlackBerry devices are now in the past.

Apple carefully controls all iOS devices and the ecosystem that supports them. Buyers cannot purchase an Apple device without iOS and cannot get iOS on non-Apple devices. Buyers that decide to go with Apple get devices in which the hardware and OS are designed and delivered as an integrated whole. That's not the case with Android. A variety of vendors offer phones and tablets based on the OS, and those devices can vary significantly. Most importantly, relatively few devices are running Android 8.0 Oreo, the latest OS version and the one with the most complete features for managing and securing devices.

A vendor might also sell products that run different Android versions. For example, Lenovo offers the Phab phones and Motorola Moto phones, which are running a range of OS versions, including Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow, 7.0 Nougat and 7.1.1 Nougat.

Buyers can have a difficult time knowing if and when a vendor will upgrade to the most current Android version or apply critical OS patches. In addition, Android vendors can modify the OS, which can inadvertently introduce security risks. If buyers are looking to Android devices for their organizations, they need to fully vet the vendor and consider whether the devices are up to date and will remain that way.

Again, Microsoft stands apart from the crowd, selling only a limited number of Windows 10 Mobile devices. However, other vendors can offer devices configured with the Windows OS. For example, Lenovo and Samsung both sell devices running Windows 10, and Asus sells a tablet running Windows 8.1. But the number of Windows devices continues to dwindle, leaving only the Surface tablet as a serious player.

Criteria No. 3: User requirements

Mobile devices come in all shapes and sizes, and buyers must determine which types will enhance workflows and meet the needs of their users. To this end, buyers should understand when, where and how those users work. What tasks do they perform on a daily basis? What apps do they need to do their jobs? What are their environments like? Do they work in the office or out in the field?

For example, if workers must take a lot of photographs or videos, buyers might consider a phone that is known for its high-quality camera, such as the Apple iPhone X, Samsung Galaxy S8 or Google Pixel 2. However, if those workers need to use complex apps in the field and cannot charge their devices frequently, they might look to a tablet with an above-average battery life, such as the Apple iPad Pro, Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 or Lenovo Yoga Tab 3. The more thoroughly buyers understand what it takes for users to get their jobs done, the more effectively they can choose the right device.

When reviewing devices, buyers must carefully weigh the features they offer, not only among vendors, but also between products offered by a vendor. Take, for example, Asus, which sells a number of ZenFone models. The ZenFone 4 Pro offers 6 GB of RAM, up to 128 GB of internal storage, a 5.5-inch display and a 3,600 milliampere hour (mAh) battery. On the other hand, the ZenFone AR offers up to 8 GB of low power double data rate 4 RAM, up to 256 GB of internal storage, a 5.7-inch display and a 3,300mAh nonremovable battery.

There are, in fact, a great number of factors to take into account when comparing enterprise mobile devices, but deciding among them comes back to understanding how users work. For example, a buyer might need to provide mobile devices for technicians who work on-site at customer facilities. A technician must be able to look up specs, type details about a call, share information with clients, access customer information, sketch diagrams, view past support calls and carry out other operations. In this case, the buyer might decide that a tablet would best meet the technicians' needs. However, the buyer must then determine the optimal tablet size, weighing portability against convenience, while taking into account other factors. For example, both Huawei and LG offer tablets with display areas that range from 7 inches to 10 inches, each size offering advantages and disadvantages, but the buyer must also consider such issues as whether the tablet needs to include a stylus or connect over a cellular network.

Criteria No. 4: Management

Organizations that purchase mobile devices for their workforce must be able to effectively manage those devices throughout their lifespan. IT should have the ability to provision the devices, deploy line-of-business (LOB) apps, apply updates and patches, configure policies and take whatever other steps necessary to administer the enterprise mobile devices.

Android, iOS and Windows 10 all include enterprise mobility management features built into the OS, and with each release, vendors have steadily improved the EMM features, providing organizations with greater control and more flexibility in how they deploy and manage enterprise mobile devices.

Apple led the effort by incorporating a management framework directly into iOS. The framework makes it possible for administrators to use a third-party EMM platform to manage and monitor the organization's Apple devices, along with their apps, books and data. In addition, administrators can install, configure, manage and remove App Store and LOB apps. Plus, Apple offers the Device Enrollment Program to automate and streamline deployments.

Android also provides built-in EMM capabilities. As with iOS, EMM providers can utilize these features in their products to facilitate device and app management, including the ability to block app downloads, whitelist and blacklist apps and distribute bulk app licenses. Android also offers several options to deploy devices, such as bulk or QR code enrollment.

Some Android vendors have come up with their own tools for device management. For example, Samsung introduced the Samsung for Enterprise program, and LG came up with the Guarded Access To Enterprise (GATE) program, both of which include mobile device management (MDM) capabilities. Samsung, in particular, has led the charge in enterprise-friendly Android devices.

Buyers researching enterprise mobile devices should carefully compare the vendor-specific programs with the capabilities inherent in Android, keeping in mind the differences between OS versions. The more recent the version, the better the management capabilities, with Android 8.0 Oreo the most mature. Buyers should also consider how their organizations implement EMM.

Microsoft has also taken EMM to heart by building an MDM client directly into Windows 10, making it possible for organizations to use Microsoft Intune, System Center Configuration Manager or a third-party EMM platform to manage Windows 10 devices, whether desktops, tablets or mobile phones. The client provides a single interface that exposes a set of MDM APIs to enroll and manage the devices.

Criteria No. 5: Security

IT administrators must be able to secure devices and their data, while protecting users' personal information.

Apple takes an integrated approach to security that includes the hardware, software and services layers. Each iOS device is encrypted by default, with data protected at rest and in motion, using industry standard protocols for both authentication and encryption. In addition, the MDM capabilities make it possible to prevent unauthorized access to iOS devices and to remotely wipe those devices if lost or stolen.

Android uses sandboxing, encryption and exploit mitigation to protect Android devices, apps and data. Android management APIs include capabilities for enforcing security policies across all managed devices, as well as enforcing compliance and network configurations. Administrators can also deploy device work profiles that separate personal and corporate data at the OS level. In addition, Google now offers Play Protect, which provides always-on app analysis, scanning and removal.

Vendors such as Samsung and LG also provide security protections by integrating their own technologies into devices. For example, Samsung offers Samsung Knox, and LG offers its GATE program. As with device management, buyers must weigh these security capabilities, taking into account the differences between OS versions and whether vendors offer timely OS updates.

Windows 10 Mobile devices also provide mechanisms for protecting devices. The OS includes enhanced identity and access control features and supports multifactor authentication. Plus, Windows 10 can prevent corporate data sharing with personal information or apps. For example, administrators can control which apps on enterprise mobile devices can access corporate data or virtual private network connections. Windows 10 also supports device encryption based on BitLocker technology.

Android is at a disadvantage compared to iOS or Windows 10 because so many vendors offer Android devices. Buyers must ensure that the selected vendors prioritize security and keep the OS up to date. Apple's highly controlled environment makes it easier to update its devices and maintain control over security.

Editor's note

With extensive research into mobile devices, TechTarget editors focused this series of articles on vendors with considerable current market share that offer both smartphones and tablets available in the U.S. Our research included Gartner and TechTarget surveys.

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