Q&A

When An Apple Fan Is Forced To Choose Android

Source: Field Technologies Magazine
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Sarah Nicastro

By Sarah Nicastro, publisher/editor in chief, Field Technologies
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Android VS iOS Field Service

Techies, and even the average user, that favor Apple devices almost always do so with extreme conviction. Not many Apple fans are lukewarm about why they use and love the company’s products. What exactly would cause a hardcore Apple fan to stray from the platform? Neal Ratner, manager of business innovation at Applus+ Energy and Power, is here to explain.

Applus+ Energy and Power is a global service provider that delivers technical assurance through non-destructive testing, inspection, and certification to the capital-intensive, high-risk energy, utility, and infrastructure industries. Ratner is currently overseeing a large mobile deployment at Applus+ Energy and Power which I will be covering in more detail in another article. But as we were talking, a side topic of sorts came up which is that while Ratner is personally an avid Apple fan, he just couldn’t justify the use of their devices by his mobile workforce. Here he shares his firsthand insight on why — when it comes to his company’s mobile initiative — he’s an Apple fan turned Android advocate.

Nicastro: Tell me some of the reasons why you PERSONALLY love Apple products.

Ratner: To put it in simple terms, my three year old son knows how to use an iPad. I never taught him.  He did not sit through a one-hour orientation — he just figured it out. The simple and consistent approach between all Apple products makes them easy for people to utilize. As someone who deals with tech all day, every day, I really want the devices I use to just be an extension of my thought process, and that’s what Apple products do for me.

Nicastro: Despite the deal-breaker issues we’re going to discuss, how would some of these attributes translate into positives when it comes to a mobile worker using Apple for work?

Ratner:  Minimizing the amount of time we need to invest in training someone how to use the operating system of a mobile device means we can focus our efforts on the field service applications specifically.  We don’t want to worry about someone buying a printer and the “App” doesn’t work on their device, for example.

Nicastro: So there are some big positives, but obviously for Applus+ Energy and Power there are some show stoppers on using Apple for your mobile initiative. The first thing you referred to was “ease of use versus ease of support.” Can you explain what you mean by that?

Ratner: While Apple products are, in my opinion, easier to use, we still have to support the devices and the applications our workforce uses to get their jobs done. Field technicians need support while on site to be able to complete the work they are there to do. The last thing we want to happen is to have to tell our customer “Sorry, our tablet isn’t working so I will have to come back another day.” So, that means we need to be able to support many technicians in many locations, and the best way to do that is via remote viewing or even control of their device from centralized locations.  That way, we can see an issue in “real time” and assess how to resolve the problem so that work can continue.

Nicastro: Applus+ Energy and Power uses a BYOD model, and you mentioned that with that model in place, Apple just isn’t a realistic choice. Can you speak to the challenges of using iOS in a BYOD environment?

Ratner:  We really run into issues with Apple devices because of the Apple ID. There is no “enterprise approach” when it comes to an individual signing into an Apple mobile device. Apple designs their mobile products for the individual, so the second a user logs into a company device with their Apple ID, the device “belongs” to that individual and not the company. Without a sophisticated MDM (mobile device management) solution and documented best practices for deployment, a System Admin will be making a lot of trips to the Apple Store to get devices unlocked every time someone leaves the company and doesn’t sign out of their device. When approaching BYOD, not all MDM solutions are the same, so we have had to go through some trial and error. Obviously with users having their own devices, we have even less control over what they have on their device and how they use it in their personal time.

Nicastro: What other issues existed for Applus+ Energy and Power when it came to considering Apple use vs. Android?

Ratner:  The fundamental difference between Apple and Android is the platform. Apple controls what “can” and “can’t” happen on their devices to some extent, especially with regard to security. Android basically leaves the door open for people, companies, and even individuals to configure the system how they want. In order for us to remotely view the Apple iOS device, we would have to implement one of only a couple MDM solutions that enable this option, and even still there is a fair amount of configuration required. 

Nicastro: While you’re personally an Apple fan, what are some of the advantages Android provides for business use?

Ratner:  In order for us to remotely control an Android device, we don’t even need an MDM; we just need a mobile license for TeamViewer Quick Support. While the Android platform has definitely improved over the years, being able to support devices remotely continues to be a priority requirement for our workforce tablets.

Nicastro: What challenges have you experienced with Android, and how have you overcome them?

Ratner:  As with any “open” platform, Android devices are inconsistent for configuration, hardware lifecycles, and upgrade ability. Some manufactures allow devices to upgrade to the latest Android build, some don’t. If you look at the website for a major manufacturer of Android tablets right now, they have several different versions of tablets ranging in OS from 5.1.1 Lollipop through multiple 7.0 Nougat. In our experience, even buying tablets from the same manufacturer with the same version of OS, different models have different configurations.  

Also, because Android products are released from many manufacturers at different times with different lifecycles, durable cases for our workforce are only available for certain brands and models. Keep in mind, an individual can purchase one case from Amazon, but a company may need to buy 50, 100, or even 1000 cases at a time and needs support from that vendor. The only way to mitigate these issues is for us to limit our tablets to one manufacturer, and even try to stick to one model or platform. Furthermore, we have to stay consistent with our training and managing a fleet of tablets with different operating systems is difficult when we deploy in-house applications, so our best practices for testing are extensive prior to deployment of any updates.

Nicastro: What other advice or consideration points can you provide to a company currently evaluating Apple vs. Android for its mobile initiative?

Ratner:  Determine the support level you will need to provide to your users. If you do not have in-house applications or mission-critical situations where a field technician needs that mobile device to do their job, Apple might be the best way to go. For us, having a user take screen shots of issues and try to explain the problem to the back-office support that way just wasn’t sufficient. 

Also, make sure to take your mobile data seriously. Implement a MDM solution and have documented best practices for mobile. Our employees still want email on their phone, contacts, and access to company information. Companies have to find the middle ground on enabling their mobile workforce and still protecting the mass amounts of data moving around.