The Smartphone Fanboi Peril

Wayne Rash

Yesterday was a big day for the Apple iPhone 4. A million or so obsessed customers stood in line just so they could have one of the new devices on the first day. There's nothing like bragging rights to make people willing to put up with massive inconvenience. But that's the fanboi phenomenon at work. For those of us who write about such things, it provides great entertainment, if nothing else.

But for your business, the last thing you need is someone who is hopelessly obsessed about anything. Being a fan clouds judgment; it causes a person to make decisions on what they wish the truth might be, rather than what it actually is. And, sadly, the iPhone fanbois will go to any length to prove that their obsession with the iPhone 4 is justified, even if it costs your company money, reduces productivity, or interferes with your IT department.

Worse, these hopelessly obsessed fans will disrupt normal business conduct in their eagerness to prove themselves right. If you want to see an example of such disruptive behavior, just take a look at what happened when I wrote a news analysis suggesting that the Verizon / Motorola Droid X might be a better solution than the iPhone for some businesses.

While the iPhone 4 is a better enterprise solution than its predecessor, it's no slam dunk. You can't easily create enterprise-specific applications for the device because you have to get Apple's approval to put them on the App Store, and for any number of competitive reasons, you might not want to do this. This means that your other choice is to provide Web-enabled applications, but you also can't use Adobe's Flash, which is used by something like 95 percent of all corporate websites to streamline information presentation.

But of course, those limitations don't matter. All that matters is that the iPhone partisans have their favorite device, and that you change everything to support it.

And the need to change everything is precisely the problem. The iPhone partisans won't be satisfied until you make your IT operation revolve around the object of their affection. Of course, they aren't alone in this, but at least the BlackBerry and Android partisans have a little more reason on their side. Both are much more easily managed at the enterprise level, and both have better support for security.

But the real peril isn't the fairly narrow difference in the utility among these devices. It's the shrill insistence of the fanbois that you do things their way. Compromise isn't in their lexicon, and you're not likely to be able to put it there.

And you might as well know now that this mindless obsession is about to strike your company. Be prepared for it. Perhaps the best way is to create a policy that applies to people with all devices that attach to your network. You can't just make rules for iPhones or Droids. You have to make rules and not make exceptions. Here are some ideas:

Any device that attaches to the corporate network must support enterprise management, including the ability to accept policies such as a password requirement, remote wipe, and the disabling of some functions while connected to the network (like turning off the camera when the device is in the building).

Devices must have a history long enough to show sufficient stability. Virtually all new devices will have bugs, and there's no way your IT staff needs to be involved with sorting them out.

Devices must be able to support your enterprise software needs for that specific user. You may want to allow some devices for users that don't have particularly demanding needs, but be more strict with other users that need, say, a front-end app to your database.

Device requirements can't exceed the ability of your staff to support them. So if you don't have anyone who knows how to support iOS 4 or Android 2.2, then you can't have them on the network until you've had a chance to train those people.

I'm sure there are other policies you'll need to put into place at your company, but you can see where the risk lies. If you give in to demands for support before you're ready, then you're risking the security and stability of your enterprise. The fanbois with their strident demands won't like this, but as long as you apply these rules equally, they should have no complaint. But of course that won't stop them from complaining anyway.

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Jun 25, 2010 3:06 PM Siva Chinnasamy Siva Chinnasamy  says:
You are right on the mark. For corporate use, Droid X is much better suited than Iphone for several reasons. 1) Removable battery & SD card. Sales people that need to put their phone to really heavy usage will benefit immensely from being able to use extended battery for Droid X. The removable SD card lets employees put personal information in their personal SD card and corporate information encrypted in the company provided SD card. 2) Flash Support. With Droid X, employees can watch corporate videos streamed to their phone. Almost all IT video streaming & broadcast is done using Flash. Most reporting & analytics website uses flash. What good is iPhone for enterprise usage if employees cannot even see their own websites! 3) Ability to easily install enterprise app without having to go via anybody's App store. 4) large screen for emails, spreadsheets and documents. 5) Much better keyboard input in Droid X - both the multi touch keyboard and the Swype keyboard are miles ahead of what iPhone4 offers. iphone4 is a cool consumer toy. It has miles to go before it can be a reasonable contender for the enterprise side. Reply

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