The post-PC era has taken the business world by storm. One survey suggests that nine out of 10 American employees now use their smartphones for work, and BYOD (bring-your-own-device) has become a catchword in IT departments. As moves toward new technology often do, this one has created its share of naÃ¯ve optimism. An Intel ( INTC ) study found that managers cite increased productivity , more than any other benefit, as a reason for allowing employees to work from their personal devices. That contrasts with a report fromCitrix ( CTXS ), which says that the number of companies running a blacklist of certain mobile apps - preventing their use on company phones - more than doubled in the fourth quarter. Facebook ( FB ) and Angry Birds routinely top these blacklists. This would seem to indicate that some employees aren't too worried about their productivity.
Samsung (KRX:005930) issued a study of its own , and like Intel, it found a "gap" between what employees and their bosses expect from mobile devices. The average worker sees them as an opportunity to stay connected and conveniently handle email (or play Temple Run ), while IT staff are more concerned with security, and the ability of these devices to run company software. These demands have led the market in two different directions: Apple ( AAPL ) is gaining strength in the enterprise sector - where iOS now holds a 58% share - while Google's ( GOOG ) Android runs away with the general smartphone market.
That divergence is an opportunity for the Windows Phone. Microsoft's (MSFT) mobile operating system now accounts for 4-5% of the global market - an underwhelming number, but nevertheless an improvement over recent years. Nokia's (NOK) hardware provided an encouraging data point, when it reported that the Lumia brand - its line of Windows Phones - was the company's best performer in the first quarter. The enterprise sector appears to have high expectations; a survey by the Aberdeen Group found that Windows Phone leads both IOS and Android when it comes to the number of enterprise apps under development. With most business infrastructures designed around Windows PCs, and Microsoft's Office installed on most of those machines, there's hope that the mobile version of Windows will offer a better fit with existing technology.
Ultimately, Microsoft's opportunity has less to do with the strength of its own products - always a controversial subject - than with the problems that both iOS and Android bring to the workplace. Tech specialists tend to like Apple's operating system because there are only a few devices to support - the iPhone and iPad - and Apple maintains quality control over both the hardware and software. The situation is less ideal for employees, who find themselves without many options. The iPhone's 4-inch display can be a little small for those who deal with a lot of email, and there are some who prefer a smartphone with a stylus, or a button keyboard. And then there's the price: Apple's products aren't cheap, and while this is less of a concern in the US - where carriers like AT&T (T) are willing to subsidize them - the Apple price tag can be a stumbling block in many parts in the world.
Google's operating system, meanwhile, is a headache for administrators. There are thousands of different devices running Android, and they come in many different shapes, sizes, and performance capabilities. Large numbers of them are using old versions of the OS, and since Google encourages hardware makers to tweak the operating system, there's little consistency from one device to the next. Android isn't optimized for the corporate market , so manufacturers like Samsung feel compelled to add their own security features, bringing even more fragmentation to the ecosystem. The result is that Droid handsets are more likely than Apple's to be the target of malware - in fact, 19 times more likely . That's an issue for IT professionals, who routinely rate security as their greatest concern.
Windows Phone presents a happy medium. Microsoft exercises some control over how the OS is used, by setting hardware standards and working through partnerships with phone makers like Nokia and HTC (TPE:2498), but consumers are still offered a range of manufacturers, sizes, and price points. If Android is the Wild West, and iOS is a closed shop, then Windows Phone is somewhere in the middle.
In the short term, Microsoft's best chances are overseas. The company has already established a beachhead in Europe and emerging markets, where partners like Nokia carry more clout. Even more interesting will be Asia, where Windows Phone currently has little presence. There's little love for the Google brand there - few use its products, with the exception of Android - and Microsoft sees an opportunity; it's teamed up with Chinese phone makerHuawei (SHE:002502) in an attempt to break open the market. The company remains a dark horse in the race for smartphone dominance, but its odds are improving. If nothing else, we're in for a good show.
The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.