Credit: Smartphone Image via Shutterstock
While iPhone and Android are excellent platforms for some sectors and especially as personal phones, it's a completely different story for small businesses looking to create apps for customers or employee use. Windows 8 and BlackBerry 10 provide small businesses with intuitive communication and productivity tools that seamlessly integrate into their existing IT environment.
David Lane, vice president of technology at Metova, a Franklin, Tenn.-based mobile application development firm, said that the platforms his company recommends depend on their client's goals and target market.
The same concept applies in deciding which platform is right for your small business. Rather than get into the technical aspects of Windows 8 and BlackBerry 10, let's talk about the things that really matter when it comes to mobile devices and your small business: productivity, communication and app management.
Windows 8 – Office productivity at its native best
Combined with its sleek hardware (Windows Phones are available on HTC, Samsung and its flagship Nokia Lumia) and intuitively designed user interface, one of the most attractive features of Windows 8 is its plug-and-play integration with Microsoft's ecosystem and business- centric software. For small businesses that rely heavily on Microsoft's legacy apps, such as Microsoft Office, Windows 8 is exactly what you need.
"Windows Phone is the only phone with a SharePoint experience built in," said Daniel Vaughan, author of "Windows Phone 8 Unleashed" (Sams Publishing, 2013). "This helps your employees share and access documents they need on the road, with support for full-fidelity viewing (online or offline), and editing and syncing of PowerPoint, Word and Excel documents. Windows Phone has many of the Office apps built in, and supports Office 365 out of the box, so there is less cost in training staff to use already-familiar applications."
Vaughan adds that since Windows Phone 8 is protected, it's a good option for businesses that are concerned about security. Not only does Windows 8 keep your device malware-free, it also prevents data leaks and maintains password and document safety by using BitLocker device encryption."With device encryption turned on, any file saved to the phone is encrypted automatically," he said.
BlackBerry 10 — Communication powerhouse
The selling point for BlackBerry is that they know business. They are the most trusted brand for security and business mobility, such that a significant chunk of the mobile workforce is still required to carry BlackBerry over other devices. (Worldwide, security remains to be the biggest objection to the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) movement.) The release of BlackBerry 10 — along with the much-anticipated Q10 smartphone — is a communication powerhouse fit for any small business.
BlackBerry Z10, the all touch-screen and first BlackBerry 10 phone, is all about quick, seamless communication and multitasking functionality, said Paul Macchia of Verizon Wireless in a previously released statement from Verizon. This same principle applies to the Q10, BlackBerry's next flagship BlackBerry 10 phone, which features a touch screen and a full QWERTY keyboard, a coveted feature for businesspeople who often fire away messages faster using buttons than they do using a touch screen.
BlackBerry 10 also features a unified inbox in their BlackBerry Hub, where users can quickly check and respond to emails, text messages, BlackBerry messenger, social media and more, Macchia said. The Hub is simply a quicker way to communicate, eliminating the need to open each app separately. BlackBerry 10 also touts a "Peek" feature, which allows users to take a glance into their Hub while on another app (for instance, to reply to an email without leaving a video conference).
'Best' app platform for business apps
From an apps standpoint, developers have yet to flock en masse into building Windows 8 and BlackBerry 10 consumer apps. For businesses, however, both platforms have plenty to offer.
"In Windows Phone 8, line-of-business apps are under your control. You can develop, package, sign, distribute, and maintain your apps end-to-end," said Vaughan. What this means is that Windows Phone 8 enables businesses to bypass the Windows Phone Store and distribute apps directly to employees.
BlackBerry has similar capabilities with the BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES), which provides advanced capabilities for app management that allows businesses to easily develop, integrate, deploy, secure and manage business apps.
One thing to consider is whether or not your IT team is capable of using either platform for developing, distributing and managing apps. While BlackBerry makes it easy to adopt BES, many developers, such as Vaughan, argue that Microsoft provides them with the best tools for developing apps. Vaughan said this will result in a significantly lower cost in comparison with other platforms to create and maintain apps for small businesses.
Given that Windows 8 has productivity locked down and that BlackBerry 10 wins on the communication front, developing apps for either platform simply depends on what else the business needs. The so-called "best" platform simply depends on your organization's needs.
As Lane puts it, "Those looking to develop apps for internal corporate use should look at their mobile device demographics before making a decision."
So take a look around — what's the priority for your small business?