Rugged Android is Not Sexy, but…
As a company, BlueFletch has done a fair amount of development on both Android and iOS and has experience with the pros and cons of each. Personally, I love Apple mobile devices. The hardware is always top-notch for both phones and computers. But, despite my affinity for Apple, we typically end up advising most clients to go with rugged Android devices after we run device evaluations and pilots for them.
We have done device selection and strategic mobile consulting with a large number of companies across different industries, and I can speak to problems we have observed with iOS in enterprise roles. There is a reason that companies like Target, JCPenny, Lowes, and Kohls have all tried IOS and moved away from Apple after a single generation of devices. Android rugged devices are designed to be used by employees in multiple-shift environments over a 3-5 year lifespan…consumer devices are designed to be used for 13-18 months until the next awesome phone is released.
Lessons from the Real World
The following are the iOS downsides we have experienced during our projects:
- Device damage rate – We have observed clients with a 20%+ monthly repair rate on fleets of iOS devices. You don’t have to run a cost analysis on employee productivity to know that the hidden costs of the lack of ruggedization are much higher than the savings of buying consumer devices.
- Battery Cycle – Most modern cell phones are rated between 400-600 charge cycles before the battery begins to have diminishing performance. At most retailers we work with, we have observed battery degradation within a year. We prefer devices with replaceable batteries. Additionally, for Android devices, you can typically get heavy-duty batteries that will run longer shifts.
- Inconsistent OS upgrade changes/support – Apple has been known to deprecate certain functionality between OS upgrades with limited input from enterprise users. We had one example where they shut down a set of APIs we were using because, in the consumer world, developers could use them for malicious purposes. More recently, with iOS 13, several major changes broke lots of iOS functionality that our clients are using on their enterprise apps.
- OS Upgrade for hardware – Apple has been known to drop OS upgrade support for older models of phones. This random updating of software left some retailers in a spot where they could no longer get support for their MDM (e.g., Airwatch). Additionally, the OS upgrade process for Apple devices was a bit less controllable than for Android devices. We prefer to have tight control of when OS upgrades are deployed and installed on devices to allow for proper regression testing of LOB applications. I love Zebra’s Lifeguard Program, where they provide monthly patches and will provide security patches for up to 5 years of a device’s release. Other OEMs like Honeywell and Datalogic have also rolled out similar processes for their rugged devices.
- Device Theft – I visited a large retail chain 12-months post iOS device roll-out and was asking an associate about the iOS devices: The response was that they had had a pretty large amount of them stolen or that had walked off. I have observed device theft of rugged devices go up, but we have been able to put better software security controls in place on Android devices than on iOS.
- Device Repair Support – Rugged OEMs like Zebra, Datalogic, and Honeywell do a pretty good job with their repair process for devices. Apple repair has gotten better, but I perceive it’s designed around consumer repairs (e.g., not focused on the typical enterprise depot experience). It may become problematic if you want OEM parts and repairs for an iOS phone 2-3 years after release.
- Enterprise APIs and tooling – Honeywell, Zebra, Datalogic, and Samsung all provide tooling for managing devices in the enterprise. Our Enterprise Launcher single sign-on solution allows our clients to customize the login experience on Android devices. We are not able to build this type of functionality into kiosk iOS devices.
- Enterprise Analytics – Apple restricts data that you can get from their iOS (to protect consumers), we have built products and tooling around Android’s APIs that allow enterprises to get better visibility into their fleets of mobile devices.
- Employee Familiarity with OS – I had one CIO indicate he felt iOS was the best decision since “everyone uses it.” I did a walk of their primary Distribution Center and only found two employees who had an iPhone (out of the 90 I talked with). The rest of the people in DC used Android devices. It is worth reviewing the device demographics of your Store employees to analyze with which platform they are most familiar with.
- Developer Build Ecosystem – If you want to use iOS devices, prepare to buy all of your development team, Apple computers. Android development IDE is well supported across all platforms Windows, Mac, and Linux.
Where iOS Works the Best in Enterprise
The following are the uses cases where I typically recommend looking at iOS devices for your employees:
- Replacing devices less than 24mo – If you are fine replacing hardware every 24 months, it reduces the number of concerns identified in the above section. If you are looking at minimizing costs, Samsung and Nokia devices are what we typically see clients use.
- Higher Economic Salaried Employees – Based on our research, we found that iOS users skewed toward higher economic stature. If you are deploying devices to Doctors or Salespeople, iOS might be a better choice.
- Specific Apps Designed for the iOS ecosystem – If there are specific Apps designed explicitly for the iOS ecosystem that your employees need (e.g., Stylebook, some photo apps).
- Tablet Interactions – For employees, designers, and associates interacting with clients, iPads show better as a platform. We have run POCs with Android and iOS tablets, and salespeople typically preferred the Apple tablets.
- Single Assigned Carry Device – If someone is carrying the device as their personal and carry devices, iOS is a good platform. Examples of this include Pilots and Flight Attendants for Delta Air Lines.
If you have additional questions or are interested in hearing more about our experiences with different mobile devices in the enterprise, you can reach out to us at Info@BlueFletch.com