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MobileIron introduces the enterprise app store

As smartphone users become comfortable with app stores, enterprises could use the same principle to distribute, monitor and control data services to their employees

If a device maker like Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), a carrier like Verizon Wireless or an OS community like Android can offer an app store, why not an enterprise? As application stores are becoming more tailored to specific platforms and even consumer segments, enterprise mobile software developer MobileIron is taking the same approach to enterprise mobility, creating an internal app store that businesses can use to distribute content and software to their growing base of smartphone users.

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MobileIron specializes in making smartphones more palatable to enterprise IT departments, providing tools that allow an enterprise to monitor and control where and how employees use wireless voice and data services on a range of high-powered devices. In August, MobileIron introduced the first build of its software, which generates a virtual image of all of an enterprise’s smartphones so an IT administrator can track employee usage in real time as well as set thresholds for the amount and type of data services used. Today, MobileIron added new features to its platform that give more management control to both enterprise end users and to IT. But significantly, the release also contains MobileIron’s enterprise app store platform.

The app store allows enterprises to create a repository of approved content and apps, which employees can then download and use with the full blessing of IT. Rather than just check off what apps are allowed and which are not, though, the app store allows the enterprise much more nuance. An enterprise can create device or employee categories with permissions for certain types of content. Salesmen, for instance, would find Salesforce.com’s app in their approved storefront, while a field engineer would not. Both field engineers and salesman could have access to vehicle navigation services, and while a desk jockey might be able to download that same application, the company could set usage restrictions limiting when he or she could use it (say, business trips) or require the employee to pay the monthly service fee in a separately generated bill.

“Historically the model for enterprise apps has been the ‘push’ model,” said Bob Tinker, CEO of MobileIron. “IT says, ‘Thou shalt have these applications,’ and they are pushed to your device. But we’re starting to learn from the consumer app store model. It allows the employee to self-select the applications he needs to work.”

The app store has proven to be a platform with which users of all technical backgrounds are comfortable working, Tinker said. In many enterprise models where phones most be pre-loaded with apps or a complex over-the-air push of applications and updates, employees may not realize the full benefits of their device. Some might choose non-approved apps from consumer app stores for the mere fact that they’re easier to access. By adopting an app store approach, an enterprise could be as permissive or restrictive as it likes with its smartphone users, Tinker said.

For example, employees who bring their own smartphones to the table could use it as a consumer device and be billed accordingly, but when they access the enterprise app store, the software they download and the service fees would be paid for by the enterprise. A company could restrict all data usage to the list of the apps approved for the app store, which itself could be open or closed. An enterprise that only wants its customers using their phones for legitimate business purposes could limit the store to just those company-paid and approved apps, or it could chose to include a bevy of entertainment and consumer apps that, while approved, must be paid for by the user.

Version 2.0 of MobileIron’s Virtual Smartphone platform is device independent and can support multiple operating systems simultaneously. So far, the Apple iPhone, Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) Windows Mobile, Palm (NASDAQ:PALM) webOS and Research In Motion (NASDAQ:RIMM) BlackBerry and Symbian operating systems are all on that list, but Tinker said the Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android platform will be added soon.

For some of the operating systems, MobileIron has had to work within the limitations or restrictions of the distribution platform. Apple’s iTunes App Store, for instance, is the sole source of downloadable software for the iPhone, so MobileIron has developed a solution that allows an enterprise to generate a list of approved apps within the iTunes store. For other OSs, such as BlackBerry or Android, enterprises can build independent app stores that are only accessible to approved devices. Herein lies an opportunity for the operators, Tinker said. While MobileIron is selling the software directly to enterprises that have the resources to host the app store themselves, Tinker said carriers could offer the platform to smaller enterprises or businesses as a managed service.

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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