With large swathes of the UK working from home, mobile devices are a more important part of the work landscape than ever. With that in mind, which mobile operating system is right for your business?
There used to be three big hitters in the mobile OS space. Now, there are two. That's because Microsoft abandoned its Windows 10 Mobile OS, which reached the end of support in December 2019. Instead, it switched to Android with the launch of its Surface Duo in September.
The remaining two large players, Android and iOS, both have programs to support businesses. Google has Android Enterprise, which lets you manage both company-owned and BYOD devices, distribute custom applications for employees, and improve device security. Apple Business Manager includes similar features.
Both operating systems include support for isolating the work portion of a device from the personal one. This feature, known as work profiles in Android, was introduced in Android 5 and provides a walled-off part of a user's device dedicated to business apps and data. This is the only part that admins can control. Android 9 also introduced support for separate work and personal tabs in the default app launcher, making it easier to separate work and personal use, which is especially handy for BYOD devices.
Apple introduced its Managed Apple ID feature in iOS 13. Similar to the Android offering, it's a workplace-focused profile for the user that runs alongside their personal profile. On iOS, these separate profiles show up in apps like Files, which grants access to different files based on what profile you're using. This is part of a feature called user enrolment. It is useful when managing user-owned devices in a corporate setting, because it means that admins can only see the data and apps associated with the Apple Managed ID, not the personal one.
Both of these operating systems got updates in September 2020. The latest version of Android is 11, which began making its way onto select phones at the end of the summer following an announcement earlier in the year. Android 11 extends the work and personal tabs setting to cover more device features. It also enables users to switch between work and personal profiles in some apps, meaning that you can keep personal and work email separate, for example.
The problem with Android's OEM ecosystem is that different phone vendors update at different times. This makes it difficult for businesses trying to support the latest devices on their phones unless they opt for Google's Pixel devices, which always get the updates first. There also isn't a version of Android 11 for tablets yet at the time of writing.
Apple's iOS 14, which began shipping shortly after Android 11, offers updates to its group chat feature. These will be useful to those business users that standardize on the platform in their companies. People can now mention others in group chats and pin important conversations to the top of a message list, mirroring some of the features that Slack is known for. There's also a translation app that can translate text and audio in 11 different languages. That will be useful in the future when people start taking business trips again, but we'll probably have migrated to the next version of iOS by then.
There are also some new privacy features, which are just as useful for business users as for consumers. You can now opt to share only your approximate information with other apps and you can also see a summary of an app's privacy settings. Apps must now also get your permission before tracking you across services, which miffed data-slurping Facebook so much that Apple chose to delay this feature for a few months. Finally, there's a feature that displays an orange dot if an app is trying to access your camera or microphone.
Which OS should you choose? Each company's features and programs are close enough that it becomes more of a commercial choice depending on variables such as your company's bring your own device (BYOD) policy. Do you tend to let users have their own devices? Do you have an existing mobile device management system like InTune (part of some Microsoft 365 setups) that manage all devices using its own functionality? Do you rely heavily on one OS provider's apps, like Google's G Suite, or do you use other tools that are neither Google or Apple-centric? All of these considerations, along with the price of the mobile devices themselves, should factor into your decision.