On the personal or “consumer” side of the smartphone market, everybody is competing with everybody on basically the same terms. Apple, Google, Microsoft, Research in Motion—they all want to be the phone you pick up with your two-year contract, either for free or for something like $200. But only Research in Motion and Microsoft are really all-in on selling directly to large businesses, while Apple tends to expect businesses to adapt their technology and build apps to suit the workers toting their own iPhones and iPads.
That leaves Android, which, until just recently, seemed to be almost exclusively focused on fun, music, and games with its Play Store. Meanwhile, Microsoft is promising corporations the ability to build their own app stores.
But then, in October, Android picked up some enterprise management tech from its Motorola acquisition. And now comes word that Google has filed a trademark for “Play Means Business”. Meaning that its Play Store (about which I totally understand if you still use the term “Android Market”) is gearing up to offer apps and perhaps multimedia goods specific to each business. Hard to say what, exactly, that will look like, but in the trademark filing, Google suggested that “Play Means Business” applies to these goods and services, as the filing requires:
… the ability to chat, access and write blogs, use forums, join video conferences and share multimedia, among others.
Businesses know all about Google’s power and skills, but mostly from the search and discovery side. They see Google, in other words, as a referrer of traffic, of people searching for something nearby, or as a tool for finding other things. To see Google as a business partner that can provide IT infrastructure is going to be a hard marketing pitch, much as Google’s attempt to market Google+ as a place to share so often runs up against everybody’s understanding of Google as the huge database that knows everything. By comparison, Amazon became the leading reseller of web-based virtual computing and storage space almost overnight, while nobody was watching, in large part because they’ve always been a brand that Sells You Things, And Cheap.
Beyond the branding work, and the technical challenges of having a large, popular device platform that’s a relatively more popular target for malware attacks, Android will face another problem Microsoft and RIM have encountered along the way: balancing the needs of individual buyers against corporate stability. Android already receives some dings for its inability to move even month-old phones toward its newest releases; having millions of corporate customers won’t make deployment and upgrade adoption faster or easier.