Mobile management morphs

The software now goes way beyond controlling physical devices.

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Neither iOS nor Android allows mobile device management software to control when users can install operating system updates, and that drives Bond nuts. "If you're putting out a trivial JavaScript app you can run it on anything you want. We have a complex, heavyweight app" that measures and designs custom-built blinds, he says. "They could release an update that breaks my application for 1,000 users."

Mobile OS update requests get pushed to users before Bond's team has a chance to test them, and while he warns users not to jump the gun, he says they're so accustomed to various updates that they tend to accept them without thinking. "The user doesn't know whether it's a big or a little update. And you can't expect people who aren't employees to exercise the same level of care," he says.

Costs versus benefits

MDM software can also be expensive. IT executives say they typically encounter prices in the range of $25 to $50 per device for a perpetual license, plus maintenance fees that can tack on another 20% or more per year.

But there's room to negotiate. "MDM vendors are still trying to figure out their price points," says Abraham, who recently reviewed pricing from BoxTone, MobileIron, Good Technology and AirWatch.

Several MDM vendors either currently offer or are adding SaaS versions of their software, which usually come with a different licensing model. AirWatch offers both perpetual licensing and subscription pricing for its cloud service.

Abraham found that paying the one-time perpetual licensing fee, plus annual maintenance, locked in a lower overall cost for the contract period than paying the annual subscription fee, which typically runs between $3.50 and $7 per month per device. It's important to work out the numbers, he says.

Even if it's not perfect, mobile management software is much better than it was just a few years ago -- and it's definitely better than the alternative, says Bond. "MDM tools have a steep learning curve and cost curve, too. But in the future you're going to be mobilizing apps more than you think, so if you think you can get away without using MDM, you're selling yourself short."

Next: MDM tools: Features and functions compared.

Robert L. Mitchell is a national correspondent for Computerworld. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/rmitch, or email him at rmitchell@computerworld.com.

Read more about mobile device management in Computerworld's Mobile Device Management Topic Center.

This story, "Mobile management morphs" was originally published by Computerworld.

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