Thanks to Apple and Google more vendors offer mobile app management. How do these products stack up?

As I've written in the past, there are a large number of software vendors that provide MDM functionality-way more than just the top handful of enterprise mobility management-oriented vendors.

As I’ve written in the past, there are a large number of software vendors that provide MDM functionality—way more than just the top handful of enterprise mobility management-oriented vendors.

There was a surge of activity a few years ago when iOS MDM came on the scene and many different software vendors (in a range of categories) began layering MDM functionality on top of other products. I certainly don’t want to trivialize what any vendors did, but the bar for implementing basic iOS MDM wasn’t that high. (This happened with Android, too, but to a lesser degree—it’s a bit more complex because more of the stack is left up to software vendors to figure out on their own.)

At that time, the only way to do more advanced things like mobile app management was to figure out things like app wrapping, mobile app management SDKs, and building special enterprise-oriented versions of apps. (This is app-based MAM, where all of the management functionality is a built into the apps themselves.) The bottom line is that the bar for entry for MAM was higher than for MDM, and it was generally the province only EMM-oriented vendors.

But since iOS 7 came along, Apple has incorporated many MAM features directly into the OS. And Android Lollipop will likely bring a similar democratization of MAM. (Though as before, there’s a greater burden for software vendors to figure it out.)

The result is that is that software vendors that added basic MDM onto their products a few years ago now have MAM, too. The bar for MAM—or at least one type of it—is lower.

What does this mean?

Don’t get the wrong impression—both the new MAM technology itself and the ease with which vendors can now implement it are vitally important—and this great news all around. But customers are going to be asking how all these new products stack up. To answer that question, we need to look at a few different factors.

First, there are differences between app-based MAM and OS-based MAM. (This is one of my standard soap box issues.) Here are a few points to consider if you’re using a product that only uses OS-based MAM:

  • You have to manage the device, which frequently makes it a non-starter for BYOD. This is probably the number one issue with OS-based MAM, and this use case is spread out across all sizes and types of companies—it’s not just an enterprise or just an SMB thing. (This is important!)
  • Android Lollipop is just barely starting to roll out, and we’ll have to deal with older versions of Android for at least another year or two. More important, due to the greater complexity of dealing with Android, it’ll be a while before we see solutions based on Lollipop’s built-in MAM framework.
  • You’re limited to whatever frameworks the OS happens to provide, and you’re trusting the integrity of the OS to make sure those frameworks function correctly. (Though on the other hand, even if they’re not designed to work with particular EMM products, many enterprise-oriented mobile apps are likely to have their own management and security features built in anyway.)
  • One of the big selling points about this approach is that you can use “best of breed” apps instead of special enterprise-oriented versions. However, this could mean more separate siloed systems on the back end.

Second, if you’re going with one of the many non-EMM oriented software products that happen to have MDM and MAM functionality, the most important question is what else is that product doing?

  • Is it doing something that’s specialized and vital, so going with that vendor is the only way to get the job done?
  • Does it actually make sense to have it connected to MDM and MAM, or is it more a matter of convenience? (Or because it was a cheap or free add-on?)
  • Are the MDM and MAM policies adaptable enough to fit all your different needs, or are they only focused on use-cases associated with that particular product?
  • And by far the biggest issue is how the back end is implemented. Is it a scalable, stable, and enterprise product that can fulfill your needs? Or does “good enough” work for you?

Only time will tell how this will shake out. Even though there are some dominant EMM players today, there are still a lot of companies that haven’t addressed EMM yet, which means there’s space for multiple approaches.

The continued evolution of MAM and EMM technology could influence this, too. iOS 9, 10, or beyond could introduce new options that make the tradeoffs of managed versus unmanaged devices disappear. EMM vendors could find interesting ways to leverage Android 5.0. Or open standards could make app-based MAM easier.

In the mean time there’s one more lesson that’ll help us out, and that’s that we have to look at MAM on a case-by-case basis.

So what do you think? Do you see EMM concentrating in the hands of a top few vendors, or do you see a window of opportunity for the wide range of vendors leveraging MAM that’s built into the OS?

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