Magazine Article | July 17, 2014

Android Vs. Windows: Which Is Better For Data Capture?

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By Pedro Pereira

VARs and software developers have operating system choices, but which is best?

In the contest for market share in the mobile operating system space, Microsoft and Google have taken distinctly different routes in adding functionality for such tasks as data capture and bar coding. Google’s open-source approach allows hardware vendors flexibility in adding features and functions, while Microsoft has decided to make the process more restrictive with the release of Windows 8.

As such, each vendor has its supporters and detractors among data-capture hardware vendors — who are engaged in their own race for market dominance. Handheld device manufacturer Datalogic, for instance, has yet to release an Android device, even though the company has experimented with Google’s operating system for a couple of years and plans to release Android products soon, says Tom Burke, Datalogic vice president of mobile product marketing.

Luis Wu, general manager at handheld vendor CipherLab USA, says each operating system has its pros and cons. Android, he says, is easier to install, more user-friendly, and less expensive than its counterpart. Being open source, it allows for a lot of customization. On the other hand, he says, security “is not the best,” battery life isn’t great, and it takes some effort to get software drivers to work with bar code scanning.

Windows follows bar-coding standards and is a proven product that offers coding flexibility, he says. It’s easy to install in an enterprise environment, and plenty of software is available for the OS. However, Wu says, Windows has high resource requirements, costs more, is not open source, and it’s “not as flexible software-wise.”

Joe White, vice president of enterprise mobile computing at Motorola Solutions, says Android offers more advantages now that Microsoft has chosen to lock down the operating system with Windows 8, making it difficult for vendors to add functionality and performance enhancements. For data capture, he says, Android is “almost unlimited as to what you can do. Today we use open-source Android and we have complete access to all functionalities.”

This, he says, allows vendors to innovate and differentiate their products in their efforts to gain customer favor. “Windows 8 is locked down and not very extensible. The ability to enhance productivity gains outside of what Microsoft wants to do is very limited,” he says.

White points out that Android currently owns 80 percent of the mobile OS market, which has helped create a massive base of developers of tools and applications. This market dominance gives Android a distinct advantage over Windows, which has a market share of only 3 percent.

Security Concerns

Market dominance brings advantages, but it has its problems too, namely, attracting the attention of hackers. Cybercriminals prefer larger targets so they can maximize the impact of malware. This is the same challenge that Microsoft historically has had to confront with Windows on desktops and notebooks.

“Unfortunately, Android has gotten a bad rap because it has such a large market share, and hackers target the predominant installed base,” White says. In 2013, 97 percent of all mobile malware targeted Android, according to security researcher F-Secure, with most of that malware coming from small, unregulated third-party app stores, not the official Google app site.

Aside from actual vulnerabilities, how quickly a vendor responds to a security problem can make a difference. “Security is always an issue when mobility comes up,” says Wu. “I believe both Android and Windows have security issues, but by going through and fixing their issues earlier in their development, Microsoft has the upper hand on this topic. Android is a real unknown when it comes to security.”

Burke has a different perspective on the security issue. Because Android uses the Linux security model, it is inherently more secure and doesn’t allow root access, he says.

Better Suited For Business

Multiple factors come into play in determining which OS is better suited for bar coding and data capture in a business setting. Licensing is one of those factors. Android is free because it’s open source, but hardware manufacturers using the platform still have to pay Microsoft royalties for a number of patents on which the Redmond, WA, company has license agreements, so the costs even out for the most part, manufacturers say.

Subscribe to Business Solutions magazineAnother business-suitability factor is the frequency of OS updates. White says he doesn’t see much of a difference anymore in the cadence of updates from Microsoft and Google, but Android historically has outpaced Windows. A higher frequency of updates can create challenges for enterprise use. Wu points out that even though updates are unavoidable, figuring out how they affect hardware functionality can be a challenge. “This is why a lot of enterprise software ISVs or internal IT staffs have problems with Android,” he says.

Burke says enterprise customers prefer fewer updates. “They want to select a device, operating system, and an image of that device that’s locked in for a period of time, unless there’s a new feature they want to take advantage of. They don’t want to be frequently getting a new version of firmware,” he says.

When it comes to which OS is best suited for business overall, the scale tips in Microsoft’s favor. Wu calls Windows operating systems a clear winner. “They have been around for so long and worked within so many enterprise applications, which is something that no other mobility OS can say,” he says. But Wu acknowledges that a shift is taking place. “By Android providing so much flexibility, this will allow more and more enterprise IT guys to go this route for new solutions.”

Burke agrees that Windows has the upper hand for now, especially with the CE and Embedded Handheld 6.5 versions of the operating system. But he believes Android could make some inroads, and in any case, Windows 8 is bound to eventually displace the older Microsoft systems with new features such as HTML5 browser and support for latest sensors and wireless technologies.  “Android and Windows Embedded 8 are going to be the operating systems of tomorrow, and who will win there is anybody’s guess. For the future, Android has a good chance to be king of the hill, but Microsoft is not going to give up easily,” he says.

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