Businesses should support a range of mobile phone operating systems, but focus their efforts on the Blackberry, Android, and iPhone operating systems, according to analysts at Forrester.
Those systems are among the top four most widely supported mobile operating systems in business, according to Forrester research. Microsoft's Windows Mobile is actually number two behind Blackberry, but the increasing number of business applications for the iPhone means it is poised to overtake Windows for business support, says the analyst.
Android's increased security and relatively wide deployment over just two years also means it is ready to nudge out Windows, when it comes to the big three mobile operating systems IT departments must offer support to, Forrester says.
The reduced use of the once dominant Palm, and Nokia's failure to attract enough developers for its Symbian smartphone operating system, means they are well down the pecking order when it comes to IT departments having to support them. The Forrester research showed just 12 percent of firms supported Palm, while only 7 percent supported Symbian.
For Blackberry, 70 percent supported the OS. Windows was on 41 percent, the iPhone OS was on 29 percent, and Android enjoyed 13 percent support.
Forrester says businesses can also no longer limit support to one mobile operating system, "which historically has been Blackberry". Forrester's data, based on surveys of 175 IT and telecoms decision makers at firms in North America and Europe, shows that nearly half of firms are supporting two or more mobile operating systems, with 29 percent supporting three or more.
The research also shows that 56% support employee-owned devices to some degree.
"The days are numbered for limiting support to a single mobile operating system and not enabling workers with email and business resources on individually liable smartphones," said Forrester analysts Benjamin Gray and Christian Kane, authors of the "Mobile Operating System Wars Escalate" report.
They said: "Empowered workers are driving IT to support more mobile operating systems, but not all devices should be added to the 'supported' list."
Over the next year, they say, businesses should focus their support on RIM's Blackberry, Google's Android and Apple's iOS, but should also "revisit" their mobile policies annually "in light of the pace in which the market for smart mobile devices is evolving".
To illustrate the point, another research firm says Android-powered smartphones outsold iPhones in the US by almost 2-to-1 in the third quarter. The Android boom has been driven by the plethora of manufacturers that now equip their smartphones with the mobile operating system and wide availability and support from all the major US carriers.
"We started to see Android take off in 2009, when Verizon added the [Motorola] Droid," said Ross Rubin, executive director of industry analysis at NPD Group. "A big part of Android's success is its carrier distribution. Once it got to the Verizon and Sprint customer bases, with their mature 3G networks, that's when we started to see it take off."