Smartphone recipes: BlackBerry and Apple jam

There has been a fair amount of heated discussion currently around the use of the iPhone as a business Smartphone – or at least there has been in my circles (note to self: must get out more).  RIM (Research In Motion, makers of the BlackBerry) have had the business Smartphone market sewn up for years now, so some healthy competition is a good thing.  I’m certainly keen on iPhone’s ease of use and Apple design some very attractive looking devices, but is it ready for the business world?  Well, I would say that depends on your attitude to risk.  Leaving aside more subjective or prosaic considerations, such as physical vs. virtual keyboard, ease of email, speed of web browsing, battery life etc., the debate for the Enterprise usually boils down to security. 

The BlackBerry began as a business device, so it has security ‘baked in’, with end-to-end message encryption, and the ability to encrypt the actual hard drive of the device (which we do).  Having said that, the data travels through RIM’s infrastructure (albeit in encrypted form), which caused the United Arab Emirates to moot the restriction of the device because the data goes offshore as a result, and the Indian government to threaten a ban unless their security forces can access encrypted content.  However, RIM point to their security chops with a long list of certifications and the fact that it has “been approved for the wireless transmission of sensitive data, up to ‘restricted’ classification, by both NATO and the UK government.”.  Perhaps the ultimate accolade though, is that apparently the BlackBerry is the device of choice for criminals as it is so difficult for the police to intercept or recover any data from it

So how does the iPhone stack up on security by comparison?  Well, we recently saw that government ministers and civil servants have been denied iPhones, with CESG deeming them not secure enough.  It is possible to secure the iPhone using third party products (there’s an app for that), but it’s fair to say Apple are playing catch-up in this area, which is unsurprising given their initial consumer focus.  While the usability, design and sheer fun of an iPhone will appeal to many business users, there’s also the thorny question of the Apps.  Most Enterprise Smartphones will be locked down to prevent users downloading applications since they may contain malware or viruses, yet it’s arguable that the whole point of the iPhone is the Apps ecosystem around it.  So if you offer the iPhone to staff and allow them to download apps you’re letting your security guard down, but if you deny them the apps then you’re taking away its USP.  Additionally, many organisations block iTunes due to concerns over piracy, illegal downloads, storage overhead etc., but you need it to download iPhone updates.  So if you allow iTunes, do you then allow staff to hold their music collection on their PC?  What happens when the iPhone dies or they leave the organisation (or vice versa), are you responsible for backing up and restoring their music collection?  Echoes of Martin’s post on the importance of back-ups here. 

So, who’s winning the war?  Well RIM aren’t giving up without a fight and are pushing new touchscreen devices and their own app store, while Apple are working on security to lure the business user.  Give it a couple of years and there may not be much to choose between them.  In the meantime though, the BlackBerry would appear to be the weapon of choice for the more paranoid email junkie, while the iPhone reigns supreme in terms of usability and multimedia.  Though whether you agree with that will probably depend on which device you pray to every 5 minutes…

Damien Behan

2 Responses to “Smartphone recipes: BlackBerry and Apple jam”

  1. 1 BlackBerry solutions November 9, 2010 at 4:45 pm

    Very nice post. I agree at the moment BlackBerries seem to be safer business solutions than other phones including iPhones.

  2. 2 Andrew Kemp July 29, 2010 at 4:19 pm

    Good post, we faced that same question when we switched to BlackBerry’s from Windows Mobile, ok so you can wipe a windows mobile device with Exchange SP2 but the overall security of the device was always an issue.

    We had several users wanting iPhones as a “business” device, but like you say they are not really there for the business in terms of security, and we would then need to provide the users with iTunes etc….

    We have about 70 BB users and I would say 50 of those are the new Storm2 devices with the virtual keyboards. A good device but not there with the “simplicity” of the Apple device. The other thing with the touch screen devices is that their battery life is shockingly poor you would need to charge it every day.

    Blackberry wins hands down with security, our users do complain about the lock out duration etc of the device but unfortunately that is the price you have to pay to have your data secured! Besides if they are at their desks why do they need to check it every 10 min anyway?

    We have a number of users who have their own iPhones who want to sync it with their work email, so we have left in place the Exchange mobility setup. I would say this is a risk as we have no way of controlling these devices, you wouldn’t let a user come in a plug their laptop in to your LAN , so why do this? Okay the flip side of the coin is it doesn’t cost the firm any more money and makes the user contactable when they are not in the office, but is it a price worth paying for that?

    Also there are some more benefits using a blackberry with in the business environment , the ability to browse your company’s intranet from it, being able to access a shared drive on your work’s network and also locking the devices down with policies.

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