As Windows Mobile and Windows CE prepare to ride off into the sunset, the time is now for enterprise developers to begin accepting nominations for their mobile operating system (OS) of the future.
Raising the stakes for this decision-making, enterprise app developers are finding it more critical than ever to correctly anticipate industry trends and execute plans based on accurate foresight. This is a necessity caused by the more expansive, globalized nature of industrial software deployments that leads to lengthier firmware lifecycles, less frequent upgrades, and greater time and resources required to develop, distribute, and support new mobile solutions. Windows Mobile (now called Windows Embedded Handheld) and Windows CE (both of which, to be clear, are unrelated to Windows Phone) remain supported until 2020, but this is a blink of an eye in the industrial software world. Given the impeding latency of delivering new solutions, enterprise developers need to select and execute their transition to their business’ next mobile operating system well ahead of the end of this decade.
Should Enterprises Simply Jump From One Windows to the Next?
More than 15 million enterprise devices are currently dependent on legacy Windows OSes for which support is due to expire. Developers, though, might be wise to redefine this crisis as an opportunity, using it as a reason to perform app redesigns that incorporate fresh features like multi-touch, gestures,the latest in user interface (UI) best practices, etc. Even for enterprises moving from a sunsetting Windows OS to Windows10 (and obviously for those selecting Android or another OS entirely), the transition will require a complete software rebuild. Developers working on mobile apps for enterprise and industrial environments should find the Windows 10 OS well-equipped for their needs, with enterprise-grade security, identity, and information protections, and simplified highly-capable management and deployment features.
Android, though, is really in the incredibly favorable position of capturing more attention of developers in search of their next mobile enterprise OS. According to IT research firm IDC, Android has now snapped up 84% of the overall device market globally, arguably placing it in the driver’s seat to capture a dominant position in the enterprise-specific mobile OS market as well. Android for enterprise is certainly already gaining the attention of developers. A report from Vision Mobile discovered that Android has become the OS that enterprise developers are now most commonly developing for, with 74% of developers targeting the platform.
For Android, First You Win the Consumer, Then You Win the Enterprise
Android’s consumer popularity feeds several factors that set the stage for its success across enterprise dev environments. In fact, Android’s probably now poised for a long-term run as the top OS prospect for developers to build their enterprise apps upon. Developing for the dominant OS is good, and enterprises should understand the ways that the consumer marketplace will often precede and complement major shifts in enterprise technology adoption.
Among the chief advantages when developing enterprise apps for a widely popular OS is that of simple familiarity. When workers already know the particulars of a device’s user interface and can interact with a new enterprise app intuitively because they are accustomed to the same general user experience as the personal devices they have at home, the time and cost to train them in using the new app is vastly reduced. This is a big advantage for Android, since according to the IDC findings mentioned above, as many as four of every five workers may already have an Android device in their pockets (again, looking at a global population).
Beyond just users, though, enterprise developers should consider the ecosystem surrounding a mobile OS. Success on the consumer side of the industry draws favorable attention from technology vendors, who recognize the long-term stability of the platform. They also invest in learning about and getting the most out of the technology, while making business planning decisions to provide deeper support. Additionally, an OS with wide popularity develops an ecosystem that provides more developed and accessible programmer resources, tools, and critical application support. And popular consumer OSes give rise to prosumer applications and services, which enterprises and developers can often utilize easily through app store delivery.
It should also be noted that Java is used to develop Android apps, which just happens to be among the world’s most popular programming languages (popularity which has risen substantially between 2014 and 2015). Therefore, software vendors are incentivized to develop for Android not only because it’s the platform with the largest installed base, but also because the methods of development are familiar and comfortable to a higher percentage of developers. Vision Mobile finds that 38% of developers are utilizing Java, second only to HTML5 at 42%. The fact that Android is more or less open source software – and that it provides the inner-workings for the platforms used by Amazon devices (think Kindles) and Xiaomi (the world’s fourth largest smartphone maker) – should only boost its appeal to enterprise app developers.
And Android is Adapting to Enterprise Needs
We’re already seeing Android serving enterprises today much better than earlier, more consumer-centric versions. Prominent among the changes has been the shoring up of Android into a highly secure platform. Android’s reputation as a choice for enterprise was affected by early security issues, especially its allowance of malware apps to be distributed on Google Play (reminder to developers: a secure enterprise app shouldn’t have unfiltered access to Google Play Anyway). Android releases before October 2011 also lacked essential security features that have since been added, such as encrypted credential stores, full drive encryption, extensible VPN support, and others. On the subject of Android adoption for embedded systems and M2M deployments, research firm VDC noted: “Engineers’ concerns about Android’s security are diminishing, and their willingness to use Android for an expanding range of applications is on the rise.” As it stands, Android now meets the regulatory security certifications in use across a number of industries, including government (FIPS 140-2), retail (PCI-DSS), and healthcare (HIPAA).
Virtualize to Modernize
Enterprises may find virtualization to be a wise method of granting extra life to their existing apps, enabling them to run on modern platforms. Technologies like iFactr can offer the faster, less expensive, and lower risk option of virtualizing apps – and adding modernized user experience aspects while leaving the user’s familiarity and the app’s functionality intact. In this way, enterprises needing to move to new devices because of sunsetting support can enjoy a simplified, more predictable migration.
Live Long and Prosper
Given the root cause of why most enterprises must search for a new OS to tie to their mobile needs in the first place – the end of support for their current OS, as is the case for Windows CE and Windows Mobile users – the longevity of a popular platform is one of the strongest arguments for why developers should adopt them. While certain versions may sunset, there can be no doubt that Android will be supported and available in some form as far into the future as the eye can see, representing a tangible value for enterprises in their long-term planning.
History is littered with counterexamples of mobile OS choices forced to exit enterprise consideration because they stumbled in the consumer marketplace and ceased to be. Take a moment to remember Samsung’s Bada OS (a contender for two-and-a-half years), Windows Phone 7 (two years), and Microsoft Kin (just four months).
So What About iOS?
Of the multiple other platforms out there for enterprise developers to consider, iOS controls nearly the entire consumer marketshare not held by Android – which, globally, is about 20% according to IDC. In the United States, of course, iOS’ popularity is higher. The Vision Mobile report also finds that, like Android, iOS is targeted by a majority of developers, who develop for about 1.75 platforms on average. It may make sense for enterprises to consider iOS as another mobile OS with similar popularity advantages to Android but on a smaller, less near-ubiquitous scope. Certain businesses possessing special circumstances for which iOS makes sense – a synergy or affinity for Apple products, for instance – should also be able to realize the benefits of leveraging a successful consumer OS as mentioned above.
Windows 10, iOS, and (especially) Android all potentially have what it takes to curtail enterprise OS fragmentation, leverage workers’ existing familiarity, and provide reliable longevity to enterprises seeking to invest in a new mobile OS that will go the distance and enjoy robust vendor support. (But certainly Android, with its global ubiquity and association with Java, can be seen as having the inside track to win even more of the enterprise mobile OS market.) Those enterprise developers seeing the sunset of their current OS and in need of a new platform should weigh this information along with their specific needs – but also begin as soon as possible to put their transition plan into action.