The smartphone operating systems are at war again. The big three (iPhone by Apple, Windows Mobile by Microsoft, and WebOS by Palm) have all released new versions or are getting ready to launch new versions. Choosing the one that is right for you will depend on which tasks and purposes are needed for your business.
A smartphone is a mobile phone offering advanced capabilities, often with PC-like functionality. If your business is primarily using phones for verbal communication, a smartphone makes little sense. But if you have a mobile workforce using e-mail, mapping, dispatching, and so on, using a smartphone will definitely improve productivity.
Each of the big three operating systems has pluses and minuses, but which one is best for your business? There are three major criterion to consider when choosing a solution: applications, operating system, and provisioning.
What applications are available for each of these smartphones? E-mail is available on all three platforms and is relatively easy to use on all of them. Both iPhone and Windows Mobile have their different quirks (Windows Mobile has an annoying habit of either losing or corrupting your account information, and the iPhone has a notoriously inflexible mail system) while the WebOS is a new operating system with a new application base. Windows Mobile and WebOS have better Microsoft Exchange support. In terms of common business productivity applications, such as word processors and spreadsheets, Windows Mobile has much more available than either of the others. The iPhone and Windows Mobile both have online application stores, with the iPhone being the more mature of the two.
Why would a business owner be concerned about the operating system on a phone? The base operating system has a strong affect on usage patterns. From a technical perspective, Windows OS and Palm’s OS give the user the ability to have the smartphone run multiple applications at one time, while the iPhone is very restricted, with no official promise of new versions in the future providing a better multitasking environment. The lack of iPhone background tasks restricts developers from producing software that continues to work in the background while the user is doing another task. The Apple notification system helps, but it’s a poor second to really having background tasks. Apple does this to preserve the “user experience,” by not allowing the processor to be bogged down with background tasks.
Windows Mobile is very much like having your desktop on your mobile unit. Background tasks can be easily written and used. But a handheld device does not have much memory compared to a desktop, so Windows Mobile phones can be slow and require rebooting.
WebOS is somewhere in between with much “lighter” applications (with less functionality), which consume fewer system resources.
If you are deploying a number of these smartphones throughout your business and remote workforce, being able to remotely manage and provision the phones is of importance to you. Windows Mobile is the clear leader here, with a number of companies producing provisioning software for it. These systems are not easy to set up but are very powerful.
iPhone is tied to iTunes and the Apple AppStore, giving little flexibility for provisioning and management. WebOS is a new operating system that has not developed a base of management and provisioning software as of yet.
In summary, if you are using e-mail extensively and some other applications, any of these three systems will work well. If you are deploying complex software or customized applications, you should focus a significant amount of attention on provisioning and management, which would tend to point you toward the Windows Mobile solution.
John C. Shovic is a partner in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho–based MiloCreek Consulting.