3 rules when choosing your mobile devices: remember, your vendor can mess you (both enterprises and individuals) up, intentionally
In the past week there has been much anxiety in the iPhone world, with Apple displacing the well liked Google Maps for its own poorly received new mapping application. Apple has promised to improve, and it likely will. But avoiding blind acceptance of vendor-proffered futures is a must. In the world of mobile devices, the need to choose devices carefully, applying some selection rules, has become an imperative if you — whether as a BYOD owner or an enterprise — are not to find yourselves hung out to dry.
In my 2010 book — Explaining iTunes, iPhones and iPads: for Windows Users (and now well out of date) — two specific ideas were explored. The first was that Apple consciously adopts an approach best summed up as AKWIBFY,NY (or Apple Knows What Is Best For You, Not You). Yet again Apple has demonstrated this in iOS6 with its removal of the Google Maps app and replacement by its sub-standard in-house developed mapping app. At the same time the book described the iTunes environment as being like an octopus – with the iTunes Store as the body, the Internet as the tentacles and the iTunes app on Pc or Mac, on the iPad and on the iPhone as the sucker — to suck you into Apple and then to extract as much money as practical while leaving you no escape. While there is little doubt that iOS6 is an improvement on previous versions, now consider a further aspect that few comment upon. Though iOS6 will run on an iPhone 3GS (but not 3G), 4 and 4S iPhones it slows each one down, the more so the older the device. If one suspected a conspiracy you might argue this was deliberate, to force you (sorry… ‘encourage’ you) to upgrade… Sadly, none of the above seems to be about listening to customers or giving them what they need. Instead the emphasis is on what Apple needs, irrespective.
Apple, however, is not the only guilty party. Take two other examples — Sony and Samsung, albeit with rather different implications.
Sony seems to believe it has some form of special design that permits it to ignore customers in their own interest (but actually in Sony’s interest). No wonder Sony continues to suffer, and it deserves to continue suffering while behaving like it does. For example, should you have bought a relatively recent Sony laptop (in the last 3-5 years) you will discover an attitude which can be summarized as: ‘if you do anything to your device (like open it) the device warranty is invalid’. Only Sony can open one of its devices (often at great customer expense), even for something as common as replacing a hard disk. But Sony goes further, in ways that are arguably more insidious. It produces laptops on which it it actively prevents upgrading. Should you have had the misfortune to buy a Vaio with Vista on it, one which was not rated for Windows 7, too bad — Sony will do nothing for you, not even provide drivers or an option to pay to upgrade. The Sony ‘solution’ is you should buy another (Sony) device. Sadly the same will likely be true on Sony laptops for moving from Windows 7 to 8. Again, the vendor is acting to inhibit the customer (whether that customer is a BYOD one or an enterprise), even if a customer is prepared to accept responsibility for his or her actions. (To be fair to Sony, on its top end Vaio laptops that it alleges are beloved of enterprise executives, it initially disabled the inbuilt Intel virtualization capability — only to change the BIOS to enable it after a storm of protest. Unfortunately this change of heart did not come with an opening of access to the commonly accepted Insyde H2O BIOS, thus preserving other Sony-desired constraints and probably inhibiting moves to Windows 8 ).
Samsung is not necessarily much better, but there is a difference — as we shall see. If you bought an original Galaxy Tab 7″ tablet this came with Android 2.2 (Froyo). Many months later than Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) became available from Google, Samsung belatedly upgraded users to 2.3 — while also making clear that this upgrade was its limit and customers should expect no more (at least from Samsung). If you want a later version of Android, buy a Galaxy Tab2 (the ‘buy another device from us refrain is beginning to become dully repetitive’).
But the original Galaxy Tab 7″ tablet was popular. This meant it had attracted a community of interest that worked first to root the device and then to bring version 2.3 to the Galaxy Tab 7″ much esooner than Samsung did. Since then that community has brought Android 3 (Honeycomb), then 4 (Ice Cream Sandwich) and now 4.1 (Jelly Bean) to this and selected (popular) other devices, whether tablets or smartphones. Furthermore, these unauthorized OS implementations run well, not least because they are uncluttered by the volume of unnecessary vendor-supplied skins and apps on them (it is a sad fact that the bloatware that is now regarded as sloppy practice on laptops and PCs has re-emerged with a vengeance to clog up many tablets and smartphones). In addition, rooted devices frequently are more up-to-date and with better anti-virus, management and other protections than leaving older OS versions in place.
What lessons should enterprises and BYOD draw from these examples? Here are three:
- Choose your device (laptop, tablet and/or smartphone) with an eye to popularity. The more popular the device, the more likely there will be a community to provide ongoing improvements into the future, and long after your vendor has given up. This applies as much to iOS devices (where a thriving jailbroken community exists, because Apple devices are so common) as much as to selected Android devices, where the Samsung SII and SIII are obvious equivalent attractions.
- Research the constraints that a possible vendor may place or introduce to prevent upgrading or improvement. Attitudes like those exemplified by Sony (and to a lesser extent by Apple and Samsung) represent a hindrance to the enterprise and the BYOD owner trying to use his or her purchase within the enterprise. Vote with your wallet and do not permit vendors to railroad you into buying new devices when you do not need them. You should expect a modern smart device to have practical usability of a minimum of three years and probably four (though this will not apply to technology fashionistas).
- Do not write-off rooted or jailbroken devices as automatically suspect (as many enterprises are prone to do). In fact the inverse may be more accurate. A rooted or jailbroken device may possess a sounder environment with less risk than a vendor-supplied one, and probably with a longer OS life as well as an upgrade/improvement path. Of course care is necessary. Yet longevity matters and controlled jailbreaking or rooting by enterprises for BYOD customers make yet make an immense amount of sense, save much money and enable your investment to last much longer than vendors seem to want.
Next month Windows 8 arrives and probably Windows Phone 8. With these will come a myriad of new laptops, tablets and smart phones that will be bought by the BYOD community and by enterprises (one of the great potential strengths of Microsoft’s products are that it does understand the enterprise, though it remains to be seen how well this will work with the various versions of Windows 8 running across PCs, laptops, tablets and smartphones). In general, with Windows Phone 7.x devices being a recent and obvious exception, Microsoft is good about enabling users to upgrade from prior versions of Windows (this is has not always been simple but has usually been practical).
Windows 8 has an opportunity to bypass the many confusions (whether technical or of delivery) that vendors of Android and of iOS currently offer, though whether this will materialize with Windows 8 remains to be seen. You should apply the three lessons described above to Windows 8 devices. Yet it would be so much simpler for enterprises and BYOD users if these unnecessary complications and constraints as currently applicable in the iOS and Android worlds become unnecessary considerations… Enterprises and BYOD owners would both benefit together.