Organizations cannot appl(e)aud a vendor lock-in
Now that modern mobile devices (e.g. smartphones, table PCs) have made great strides in their rich user interfaces and people are accustomed to using them in daily life, they’re becoming ubiquitous in the workplace as well. Checking email and synching calendars to mobile devices are common tasks for business people, many of whom are hungry for richer business applications – like mobile BI apps that allow them to interact with their performance information anywhere, anytime. Mobile BI is on the top list of projects for decision support at organizations around the world, and managers are eagerly looking at solutions currently on the market and learning that they’re one of two breeds: native apps or Web apps. Which one is the future of mobile BI?
Native apps are applications that are device-specific – that is, they are platform and hardware dependent. They became necessary when Apple launched the iPhone and forced all developers to create applications specific to the device to be sold on its App Store. Since 2007, developers have created hundreds of thousands of native apps for iPhone that have been downloaded billions of times. But all of these apps need to run through the evaluation process of a single company for a single device category.
Although the iPhone has made some strides into the corporate world – managers do love these gadgets for their stylishness, ease of use, and the device-specific applications themselves – competition isn’t standing still. Many BI vendors have developed native apps to run on iPhones and iPads or have at least provided a front-end interpreter to handle BI presentation layers. But at what cost? Is it worth it for these vendors to put their focus on a single platform when there is an alternative? Does the small bit of increased functionality in a native app justify the decision to go that direction?
A recent Gartner report shows that Android will be the leading platform for mobile devices at the end of 2011 and that Microsoft, with their Nokia partnership in place, is expected to gain back a decent market share. Neither Google nor Microsoft are betting on a “walled garden” approach, but instead heavily promote Web apps.
So what makes Web apps different than native apps?
The growing availability of tablet PCs like the incredibly popular iPad, as well as the Motorola Xoom and BlackBerry PlayBook underscore the fact that the term ‘mobile’ applies to more than just phones these days. Users flock to purchase tablet devices for a number of reasons – they’re hooked on the latest and greatest technology, they see value in having a lightweight yet powerful mobile PC with them on the go, or they love their tablet’s battery life as compared to their laptop’s. Whatever the reason, the explosion of tablet purchases opens business intelligence to a whole new platform. Sure, your mobile BI app is likely available on smartphones, but it can have even greater capacity on a tablet.
Mobile apps for tablets are hot. Dresner Advisory Services’ Mobile BI Market Study (which includes arcplan Mobile) reflects the importance of mobile BI on tablets – respondents identified iPad as their primary deployment platform. Along those same lines, analysts are predicting that widespread BI adoption will be possible because of tablets, not smartphones due to inherent inadequacies in smartphone functionality and design for larger analyses. So the trend is clear – businesses are moving toward mobile BI and there’s a great interest in deploying on tablets.
Why tablets? Certainly convenience, ease of use, and the cool factor have something to do with it. They seem to have taken off among the executive set – we’re in so many meetings lately where everyone has an iPad on the table. As of January, Apple claimed that more than 80 percent of Fortune 100 companies are using or testing iPads. The mobile workforce, including remote sales teams, see the advantage of having a tablet with them when they’re out in the field either to take orders or to access sales data from their own BI systems. Our partner SAP has even deployed 3,500 iPads to employees in the field, allowing them to connect with their own business intelligence software for instantly updated information.