Can Android Beat RIM In The Enterprise?

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The Google Android mobile OS is making its way to the enterprise. Research In Motion is still leading the pack. But Google is bringing a lot of potential advantages to the table that may allow it to gradually erode RIM’s lead

Recent reports have suggested that future Android-based mobile devices will soon target the enterprise. Google plans to have more enterprise-friendly applications available to users and to integrate Google Docs more effectively into its phones. It’s a worthwhile vision and if done properly, I think Android can beat BlackBerry smartphones in the corporate space.

At this point, such a prediction will probably cause some to seriously question how that result would be possible. Right now, BlackBerry maker Research In Motion is the leader in the smartphone market by a wide margin. Of its competitors, only Apple has been able to significantly attract corporate customers. And although Windows Mobile smartphones once held a place of prominence in the enterprise, poor software and awful hardware has made Windows Mobile an also-ran. Meanwhile, Android has yet to make a mark in the enterprise. For the most part, Android has tried to appeal to consumers.

But if we are to believe Google’s mobile director, Andy Rubin, it won’t stay that way much longer.

Speaking to Reuters, Rubin said he believes that the “enterprise will be a good focus” for Google in the future.

He’s right. And although his company is far behind the leader in that space, I think it has what it takes to beat RIM in the business world. Here’s why:

1. Android Market
Applications can literally transform the enterprise. A variety of apps designed specifically for business users could lead to a serious improvement for Android in the corporate world. Granted, RIM has an app store as well, but so far, Android has more than twice as many apps that are, at least right now, far more appealing. It’s one of Android’s major advantages. And it can’t be overlooked.

2. Android is open source
We can’t discount the fact that Android is open source. RIM is the only company that controls the BlackBerry, which means only its decision makers decide what companies will get. Android allows any vendor to create its own Android experience. If Motorola listens to corporate customers who want tethering, push e-mail and several other features, it can build those features into a phone designed specifically for those users. Vendors can do what they want, how they want. That’s powerful. And it’s awfully appealing to business customers.

3. Remember Chrome OS
Google’s Chrome OS might first start out as an operating system for netbooks, but I don’t think it will take too much time before the company expands its offering. Android would seem like a natural mobile partner for Chrome OS. Imagine doing work using Chrome OS, transferring it to Android and going about the day. That should appeal to several companies.

4. Google Docs
Google Docs is an extremely important component of Google’s strategy for Android. The company is trying to push it on customers in a new advertising campaign, highlighting the fact that, for many companies, Google Docs might just be enough. Microsoft Office is a powerful program, but as Google Docs continues to be improved and Google pushes for better integration with Android, it could be the company’s Trojan horse for entrance into the enterprise.

5. Ubiquity
Although users can buy a BlackBerry that works on any major carrier, Google expects to have 20 Android-based phones on store shelves by the end of 2009. That number could more than double by the end of 2010 if vendors see profitable returns on Android phones. In under a year, that would mean more types of Android-based devices would be on store shelves than BlackBerry smartphones. More choices could lead to better software, and thus a better chance of Android competing against the BlackBerry.

6. RIM’s advantages aren’t unique
One of the biggest problems facing the BlackBerry today is that its advantages don’t differentiate RIM’s products. Sure, BlackBerrys are currently the best when it comes to push e-mail, and BlackBerry Enterprise Server is fantastic. But it’s not beyond the realm of possibility to see Android-based devices featuring the same technology. If RIM can do it, why can’t Google?

7. Android looks to the future
Say what you will about the iPhone, but it has appealed to enterprise customers. When it’s sitting next to the BlackBerry Bold at AT&T stores, it looks futuristic. It looks like the next generation. And it appeals to what people want—a touch-screen with engaging features. Android-based devices have followed Apple down that path. They look like they’re the future. They appeal to users. That could be important in the future.

8. More updates to come
Google’s Rubin told Reuters recently that his company plans to release biannual updates to Android software from now on. Those updates should bring major upgrades and new features. That could be a boon for the enterprise. Customers would be able to have the features they want. And if Google is serious about attracting business customers, it could only be a matter of time before it releases an update that would really attract the corporate world.

9. The outdated BlackBerry
Following that logic, I’d contend that BlackBerry software is a little outdated. It’s slow to be updated, it features the same basic experience of earlier BlackBerry smartphones, and it fails to provide an easy input style of the kind that’s found on the iPhone and Android-based phones. The BlackBerry Bold and Curve compare more effectively with Windows Mobile devices, rather than the iPhone. That’s a problem. RIM’s phone software is in serious need of an update. And soon.

10. It’s Google
Google is, well, Google. It has billions of dollars of cash on hand. It has set its sights on the enterprise. It has online tools that can be easily integrated into its mobile platform. Simply put, it has the money and the vision it needs to revolutionize the space. I wouldn’t count it out. And neither should RIM.