Enterprise Mobile, with Microsoft’s Blessing, Moves Beyond Windows Phones

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Android ecosystem, and I’m sure that they will fix it. But because they are committed to open architecture and open source, it is sometimes quite challenging for them to be enterprise-ready, because ‘open’ and ‘enterprise-ready’ are inherently incompatible, at least on the surface. But they are working on it.”

The big picture here, obviously, is that companies who want their employees to have access to powerful applications from their mobile devices have a lot more options these days. Rosenthal was largely right in 2008 when he said that Windows Mobile was the only player in this space, if only because it was the only mobile operating system that allowed employees to tap into Microsoft Exchange, the e-mail management system used by thousands of corporations around the world. But in the time since, Microsoft hasn’t advanced its own mobile platforms as quickly as many customers expected, while Apple has made big strides, releasing the Exchange-compatible iPhone OS 3 last year and readying the even more business-centric iPhone OS 4 for launch this summer.

The Android platform created by Google has also surged forward—in fact, sales of Android phones surpassed sales of iPhones for the first time in the first quarter of this year, according to NPD Group. Research in Motion (RIM) has seen its percentage share of the mobile device market decline from the mid-40s in 2009 to the mid-30s today, but it still has the overall lead. And now that Hewlett-Packard is taking over management of Palm and its WebOS operating system, there’s hope that this once-powerful platform will also survive and flourish.

Mort Rosenthal, founder and CEO of Enterprise MobileSo it’s not too surprising that the customers who originally came to Enterprise Mobile for help provisioning their Windows phones would start asking about the other platforms too. Indeed, the push for the switch away from an exclusive focus on Windows Mobile “came from our customers,” Rosenthal says.

“At the time we started out, in 2006, Windows Mobile was the modern platform,” he says. “And we have lots of customers who wanted to evolve to Windows Mobile in theory, but it never really got there. And there were enough false starts with things like MDM, their device management solution, that it ended up not being as successful as anybody wanted. So it became increasingly obvious that [sticking to Windows Mobile] was not a successful strategy for us. Our evolution to multiplatform coincided with the marketplace’s.”

Enterprise Mobile’s 55 employees do the same thing for companies buying iPhones, Android phones, or BlackBerrys as they did before for Windows phones: they load them up with the required business applications (a job mostly handled at the company’s Plano, TX, facility), ship them off to employees, and then offer ongoing technical support, including help dealing with lost or stolen devices.

Under most circumstances, you wouldn’t expect Microsoft to be very happy about Enterprise Mobile’s change of course. As I explained in my 2008 profile, the company was born during a phone call between Rosenthal and Steve Ballmer, who was looking for somebody to help boost Windows Mobile’s enterprise adoption. Microsoft is Enterprise Mobile’s largest shareholder and its only outside investor.

But Rosenthal’s conclusion that the startup needed to branch out came around the same time as a mid-2009 shakeup in the leadership of Microsoft’s Windows Mobile team. “After Microsoft had … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is the producer and host of the podcast Soonish and a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @soonishpodcast

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