Managing the iPhone 4S and the Kindle Fire in the Enterprise

By Jeff Goldman — October 10, 2011

  

Within the last two weeks, a pair of devices have been announced that are likely to be flooding into the enterprise in the coming months: Apple's iPhone 4S and Amazon’s Kindle Fire. Both devices offer new functionality that could be particularly attractive to enterprise users -- but both also have the potential to present some management challenges in the enterprise.
 
Andrew Borg, senior research analyst at the Aberdeen Group, says the new Siri voice control on the iPhone 4S looks like a game-changer -- though, as he notes, Apple is hardly the first in the space. “Microsoft bought Tellme a while ago and IBM has been in the business for a long, long time,” he says. “What’s different here is that we’re seeing a high-end natural language voice processing with a near-instantaneous real-time response on a mobile handset.”
 
And that could be extremely appealing to enterprise users. “The notion of getting to your decisions faster and being much more agile and responsive to changes in your business environment has direct and compelling business value,” Borg says.
 
Chris Hazelton, research director for mobile and wireless at The 451 Group, says the combination of the iMessage messaging service with Siri voice control could be very useful for business users on the road, who could leverage Siri to collaborate with colleagues over iMessage while they’re driving – and mobile device management (MDM) solutions, Hazelton notes, could also conceivably be used to mandate the use of Siri when a device detects that it’s on the road.
 
Still, there are some relevant privacy and security concerns regarding features of both devices. While Amazon’s new Kindle Fire offers users an Android tablet at a uniquely attractive $199 price point, several privacy concerns have been raised about its cloud-accelerated Amazon Silk browser, which uses a “split browser” architecture to speed up the browsing experience via Amazon Web Services.
 
Similarly, Borg says the Find My Friends app, part of Apple’s iCloud, presents some issues regarding privacy that could be problematic for the enterprise.
 
It’s too early to tell, Borg says, whether there’s anything about Siri or Apple’s iCloud that should be a cause for concern for enterprise users. “However, until either Apple or a third party institute Data Loss Prevention (DLP) measures on top of iCloud, I would imagine that many IT admins may blacklist iCloud for enterprise use,” he says.
 
And while the iPhone 4S isn’t different enough from other iOS devices to present unique device management challenges, Borg says that’s not true for Amazon’s new tablet. “Kindle Fire is another matter entirely; until the major MDM providers support it, I wouldn’t advise permitting them on the corporate network,” he says.
 
Still, keeping the Kindle Fire out of the enterprise could well be difficult for IT admins. “Let’s see how many are under the Christmas tree this year,” Borg says. “If it’s anything like the huge numbers we expect, I guarantee you that some of them will appear on the desk of office workers on the first official workday of 2012.”
 
But Phillip Redman, research vice president at Gartner, says any of these concerns regarding device functionality really present much less of a problem than rogue apps do. “As more of these devices are downloading applications directly from, maybe, an insecure application marketplace, then that becomes a bigger issue,” he says. “Apple does at least some vetting of the apps, so they’re likely to catch some issues before it gets out there in the market – but on the Android marketplace, those aren’t vetted, and so there is an increased number of potential malware and viruses that we’ve seen popping up.”
 
And that’s a strong driver for enterprises to deploy MDM solutions – a malicious app could be copying every email a user sends, for example, and without a system in place to monitor for that kind of activity, that could become a major security issue. “I think there is more and more concern about these devices, as independent devices, not being monitored -- and so there’s definitely more of a movement towards monitoring them,” Redman says.
 
Jack E. Gold, founder and principal analyst at J. Gold Associates, says the rapid expansion of the mobile marketplace has effectively turned mobile device management into mobile diversity management. Where MDM in the past was more about asset management, he says, it now has far more to do with device diversity – how many mobile devices are on the network, what features do they have, what functionality do they have, and how can they be secure and managed?
 
“Not all devices can accept all policies, so it’s a much more complicated problem than it was before,” Gold says. “And whether it’s the Kindle Fire or Android or PlayBook or iPad or whatever it is, companies are having to dealing with it, so they’re needing to look at tools differently now than they did before.”
 
To a large degree, Gold says, it all comes back to the iPad – when employees first purchased iPads and brought them into the enterprise with the expectation that they would be able to use them at work, IT was forced to respond. “And we’re still in catch-up mode to a large extent, because this isn’t all well-defined yet,” he says. “This is like the early days of people bringing in PCs 15 or 20 years ago. It wasn’t as diverse and as crazy – now everything’s at light speed – but it was a similar kind of problem, and it’ll take a little while for companies to get all this sorted out.”
 
And so, as companies increasingly leverage MDM solutions to manage new devices like the iPhone 4S and the Kindle Fire in the enterprise, Gold says, decisions have to be made about trade-offs between security and end user preference. “You have to think about which users in the organization get the most privileges, because not all users are created equal,” he says. ‘And you need to think about what kind of devices get the most privileged access to your apps -- because not all devices are created equal.”
 
When looking at the challenge of mobile device management in general, Gold says, the lesson to be learned from the arrival of new products like the iPhone 4S and the Kindle Fire is a simple one. “The mobile market is continuing to change,” he says. “The rate of change isn’t slowing down, and companies are going to have to learn to deal with things at a much more rapid pace. And that’s really the important lesson, not just from Apple, but from the Kindle Fire and everything else that’s coming out there -- PlayBooks, and Samsung Tabs and Xooms and everything else -- is that this is not a mature market. There’s going to be all kinds of stuff coming, and companies are going to have to figure out a strategy to deal with it.”

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