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David Berlind
David Berlind
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The End Of BYOD As We Know It?

Will IT need to limit which devices can connect to the corporate network? It feels like we're heading for separate Internets, aligned with mobile OSes and their respective clouds.

The battle for the hearts and minds of smartphone buyers is getting bloody as the combatants -- Apple, Google, Microsoft, Samsung, HTC, Nokia, BlackBerry and others -- open their war chests and spend vast sums of money to take slivers of market share away from each other.

The guerrilla tactics to curry favor are already in play as seen in this video showing a "Microsoft employee" successfully talking the owner of a Samsung Galaxy S III out of her smartphone in exchange for a Windows Phone-based Lumia 920 (the fine print swears she's not an actor).

To the chagrin of Apple and its iOS mobile operating system, IDC reported last week that Android has gained market share at a faster rate than originally anticipated. "Android-based tablets expanded their share of the market notably in 2012, and IDC expects that trend to continue in 2013," the research firm said. "Android's share of the market is forecast to reach a peak of 48.8% in 2013 compared to 41.5% in IDC's previous forecast. Android's gains come at the expense of Apple's iOS, which is expected to slip from 51% of the market in 2012 to 46% in 2013."

The pressure is causing Apple, normally very crisp with its messaging, to make mistakes. My colleague Tom Claburn picked up on the meme in his coverage of Apple's recent "loss" in a war of words.

The battle is clearly intensifying.

The plethora of new hardware choices made available this spring alone promises to complicate an already somewhat challenging scenario for IT managers now wrestling with the bring your own device (BYOD) phenomenon. The situation was moderately manageable when it was just iPhone and iPad-toting employees begging for corporate email access. Although imperfect as an ActiveSync managed client (thank you Apple!), allowing iOS in addition to the then-corporate standard BlackBerrys was not a major sacrifice.

But once iOS got its foot in the door, it was only a matter of time before all sorts of devices running all sorts of operating systems demanded access. Thankfully, the challenge of managing heterogeneous pools of mobile devices resulted in the birth of a relatively new cottage industry (that of mobile device management, or MDM), which includes fast-maturing players like Soti, MobileIron and Airwatch (the actual list is much longer). Knowing that these MDM players need finer-grained access to the underlying device functionalities than what ActiveSync typically provides, the forward-thinking hardware players are building management APIs into their smartphones and tablets.

To date, Samsung appears to be the most forward thinking of the mobile device companies. It has built its SAFE and Knox management and security platforms into its devices to better serve the needs of enterprises and the MDM solutions providers that serve them. Earlier this year at CES, Tim Wagner, Samsung Mobile's VP and GM for enterprise sales and marketing, told me that Samsung believed so strongly in the importance of its management platforms that the company's ads for its devices would emphasize the manageability of their devices. Wagner made good on that promise.

As seen in the photo below that was recently captured off the wall at Boston's Logan Airport, Samsung is appealing to BYODers and IT managers alike with a SAFE-compliant ad for its Galaxy Note II phablet and Galaxy S III smartphone. The SAFE logo stands for "Samsung For Enterprise" and in Samsung's wildest dream, IT managers will tell employees that the only devices they can BYOD are ones that are SAFE-compliant.

Samsung Galaxy ad

Of course, setting a corporate standard like that wouldn't be in the true spirit of BYOD. But as BYODers attempt to introduce more devices to the corporate network, it may only be a matter of time before some boundaries have to be set in order to fulfill reasonable expectations of both support and compliance.

To the extent that such boundaries amount to BYOD-stifling standards, the big question is who will be the winners and losers? We know how iPhones and iPads found their way onto corporate networks. Will end users force IT departments to also accept the latest, greatest device? Will programs like Samsung's SAFE result in a reserved parking spot for API-compliant devices? Will BlackBerry or Windows Phone be automatics because of certain "alignments" (pre-existing BlackBerry Enterprise Servers or shoe-in compatibilities with Exchange Server)?

The answers to these and other questions will control a significant amount of spending on devices over the next three to five years (perhaps longer, but 10 years just seems too risky for any predictions). It does give you some idea of why Samsung is moving quickly and placing big bets.

If these questions needed answering today, the devices themselves (and their capabilities) would weigh most heavily in the decision. However, in the future, the clouds to which business and consumer devices natively connect will eventually carry the most weight. The video on the previous page suggests that having the best low-light photo taking capability is enough to sway a discriminating smartphone buyer (who, incidentally, could be any BYODer). Today, there's some truth to this decision-making scenario. The device is the sexiest part of the pitch. However, it's the cloud behind the device that will increasingly, over time, come to define the device, its differentiators and the priorities for BYODers. For businesses leaning in the direction of the aforementioned boundaries, the business functionality hiding in that cloud could easily determine the outcome.

As InformationWeek editorial director Fritz Nelson and I explained it during our keynote presentation at a recent E2 conference in Silicon Valley (see photo below), the devices and their respective clouds are aligning. Take your pick; Android/Google, iOS/iCloud, Windows Phone/Microsoft's Cloud, etc. Ask not what the device can do, but rather what its cloud can do.

David Berlind and Fritz Nelson at E2 Conference
David Berlind (left) and Fritz Nelson share their mobile walled-garden hypothesis at the most recent E2 conference in Silicon Valley.

The mobile OSes and their associated clouds are becoming increasingly aligned with one another to the point that it is becoming very inconvenient to mix and match them -- if it can be done at all. Who really wants to be a systems integrator? You can be assured, for example, that Google's Gmail will excel on Android devices before other platforms and the same goes for many of Google's other cloud-based services. As far as Apple is concerned, Google Maps and YouTube apps are Trojan horses feeding valuable customer data -- data that Apple would rather have for itself -- to a competitor. Apple's axing of Google Maps and YouTube are great examples of how the walls (as in walled gardens) are coming up. Upon activation of their devices, power users may go to the trouble of swapping apps where possible. But most won't.

Given how mobile is well on its way to being the dominant method of Internet and Web access (it is already for Facebook, which recently crossed the 50% threshold), it sure feels like we're finally heading for separate Internets. Each will be walled-in by the somewhat proprietary alignment that exists between the mobile OSes and their respective clouds. Enclosed in those walls, businesses will likely find services worth subscribing to (e.g., Google Apps For Business). But those services will be so strikingly different from one cloud to the next (not to mention how they're integrated with other services in the same cloud) that those same businesses may have no choice but to dissuade BYODers from bringing "non-aligned" devices to the network.

What do you think? Is it the end of BYOD as we know it? If not, why not? Let me know in the comments below.

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