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Android, Palm Pre a New Headache for IT?

Even in a down economy, a raft of new mobile devices is tempting consumers and inevitably, the corporate workforce. Rumors abound that a new iPhone will be released next month along with Palm's Pre and more smartphones based on Google's (NASDAQ: GOOG) Android platform are in the works.

The new features and form factors offer consumer more choice, but the new phones are going to be a management headache for IT departments, according to industry experts.

"It's going to get worse because, where it used to be Windows Mobile and Research in Motion's (NASDAQ: RIMM) BlackBerry and Symbian in Europe, now everyone is competing in the smartphone marketplace," said analyst Jack Gold, who heads J.Gold Associates. "You add the iPhone, Android and Palm's Pre, that gets pretty difficult. Most companies can't handle that many."

Gold said some company's might choose to restrict what employees can do with some of the newer devices. "Like if you're just going to do e-mail, that's fine," he told InternetNews.com. "But then that restricts the benefits of mobility if you can't run other apps."

Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL) iPhone supports Microsoft's Exchange Server, so in terms of corporate e-mail it is compatible. But enterprise mobile management firm Odyssey Software said Apple doesn't offer nearly the level of manageability big companies are used to for Windows Mobile devices and RIM's BlackBerry line.

"There are some very exciting platforms, like the iPhone, that have raised the user experience and our customers are coming to us and asking us for the same management features we offer for Windows Mobile," Mark Gentile, president and CEO of Odyssey Software, told InternetNews.com.

Odyssey has been developing for Windows Mobile devices since 1998. Gentile says BlackBerry and iPhone support are the two biggest requests his company's hearing from enterprise customers. He said Odyssey recently evaluated BlackBerry and concluded it could extend the same depth of services it offers for Windows Mobile and such a move is being considered.

Hitting the iPhone's limits

However, a similar analysis left Odyssey to conclude it can't, at this time, extend to the iPhone.

"Apple reigned in what developer can do in terms of access to the device so it could provide a good experience out of the gate when you turn on the device," said Gentile. "They don't want the user interface to be groggy because some CPU intensive thing is running in the background. But we can't wait till Apple opens things up a bit, we would love it."

Ironically, while Android is based on open source software, Gentile says from an enterprise management point of view it's even more of a challenge than the iPhone for companies like his. "From an SDK (Software Development Kit) perspective, the Android applications are all sandboxed and protected from a management layer," noted Gentile.

Must have management features?

With Exchange, IT can extend some of the basic manageability and security features to the iPhone such as password protection and the ability to remotely wipe the device.

But Gentle claims this barely scratches the surface of true enterprise mobile management. Odyssey's Athena software, for example, offers extensive asset reporting of each device and what software is on it and provisioning to send automatic updates overnight (during non-work hours), even waking up the devices if necessary to do so without user involvement.

Gentile says Odyssey uses SOAP and XML Web services, which allows integration with major system management platforms including Microsoft, CA, IBM and Symantec. "We can scale to over a million users because we're not constrained by proprietary server systems," he said.

He credits Apple with releasing "an unbelievable device, and reinvigorating the market for smartphones. But for these devices to be broadly deployed and IT to feel comfortable, you need a way to distribute and enforce policies and provide things like remote support."

Updated to clarify how Odyssey integrates with system management platforms