Smartphones and tablets are becoming the PCs of our time, and there are two major players in the game. Apple's iOS and Google's Android dominate smartphones, with RIM and Microsoft being niche players.
It all feels very familiar, harking back to the Mac vs. PC battle - and analyst Jack Brown suggests the outcome will be the same, with Android dominating by 2014. What can you learn from the past when choosing, using, and managing mobile platforms in the workplace?
Mac vs. PC
In the early days of personal computers in the 1980s, Apple developed the Mac, which allowed the average person to use a computer. It was easy to use, and much better for graphics work than anything else available, so software companies wrote for it, and publishers and graphic artists used it exclusively.
Microsoft released Windows not long after Apple's introduction of the Mac, and as it improved, more software became available for the PC. Until there was parity, you could get most of the popular software on either Mac or PC. Since there was more competition in the PC market due to Windows being available through multiple hardware vendors, prices dropped, and sales grew.
Today, Microsoft owns the personal computer market, with Apple dominating only a few niches that tend to focus on creative arts like publishing, music and video. Finding your favorite software on the Mac is a challenge since coding for both platforms can be expensive, and most businesses release their software on the more dominant Windows platform.
iOS vs. Android
Many consider Apple's iPhone, released in 2007, to be the first real smartphone, making it easy for the average person to have the power of a computer in their pocket. As the slogan suggests, "There's an app for that," meaning you could do almost anything with these elegant and easy-to-use devices. People flocked to the iPhone, developers wrote apps for iOS, and the competition took note.
Then Google released Android in 2008, and as hardware became available and units started selling, developers started releasing apps for it. Android could be licensed by any manufacturer, so many adopted it, and the variety of Android hardware spanned all price points. The Android Market matured and is on pace to overtake Apple's App Store within months. And Android hardware outsells Apple's by a 2-to-1 margin, according to a recent Nielsen report.
Innovator vs. mainstream player
The two stories are similar, pitting the innovator Apple against a mainstream player - either Microsoft or Google - and a single-vendor system against a multi-vendor one. The innovative, single-vendor system sets the tone and gets early adopters, but the mainstream player with multiple vendors wins in the end due to lower costs and greater variety of options. In the tablet market, Apple currently dominates, with Android's slow start to enter, bbyet analysts are predicting that in two to three years time, Apple will be the second-place contender.
So how does all of this affect small businesses using these platforms? In the past, many businesses started with Macs, supported a mixed environment of Macs and PCs for a while, and eventually went all-PC. The extra costs involved in managing two platforms on top of compatibility issues and software availability made the migration inevitable.
The same considerations apply now to businesses that must deal with mobile devices. Smartphones can do many tasks, but tablets are more capable for most business needs and are likely to play a part in most business strategies. Should you build your IT plan around iPads since they currently dominate the market? Or, do you wait a bit longer and design your plan around Android tablets, knowing they're more likely to be the long-term platform in the end?
With today's virtualisation, remote access options, and cloud computing, compatibility is less of an issue, but managing hardware still is. In the end, waiting for Android tablets is the safe bet. The overall tablet market will be more mature, app and hardware availability will be better, and managing and integrating the devices in a business environment will be easier. It's for these reasons that Android will become the standard for business, just like Windows did. What's your take?