VMware Horizon Mobile is Finally on the Way

Srinivas Krishnamurti (VMware – Senior Director for Mobile Solutions) has announced that VMware is partnering with Motorola and SoftBank to launch VMware Horizon Mobile in Japan. SoftBank Telecom will be offering Horizon Mobile as a cloud-based managed service which will be open for trials starting on December 10.

The service is launching using the Motorola Razr 201M, a mid-range smartphone that sports a 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 processor, 1GB RAM, a 4.3″ qHD (540×960), 2000 mAh battery, and Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. The battery could be a key part of the specification. Early attempts at delivering mobile hypervisors stalled due to, amongst other things, poor power management which limited battery life. VMware has been very tight-lipped about device performance, not releasing any specific information about battery performance, although Krishnamurti previously indicated that the introduction of the mobile hypervisor did not significantly impact either performance or battery life.

The introduction of Horizon Mobile in Japan is something of a surprise given VMware’s announcement at VMworld 2011 in Copenhagen of partnerships with Verizon Wireless and European telecom giant Telefónica. However, there may be benefits to be had from this approach. The Japanese telecom market is significantly different from the markets in Europe and the US, in that feature phone adoption was very much higher in Japan than elsewhere, with smartphone adoption coming later. In the more mature US and European markets there may well be difficulties in understanding and accepting the role of mobile hypervisor technologies in BYOD. The idea of a smartphone that has well-defined dual personalities may be more readily accepted.

This may be welcome news for MDM vendors whose technology is not well-suited to BYOD (see my previous post on the uncomfortable relationship between BYOD and MDM ).

Now for the first time there is a valid use case for MDM in conjunction with BYOD. Put simply, Horizon Mobile creates a full virtual phone embedded within the employee’s own device. There is no reason at all why this phone cannot be managed using basic MDM services. However, this does not mean that today’s MDM vendors are off the hook. The service that SoftBank is introducing is fully dependent on its own cloud-based management service. VMware has not shared any information about the possibility of allowing existing MDM vendors to interface with its cloud service.

What does this mean for the US market? On October 14, SoftBank announced that it is acquiring 70% of Sprint NexTel for $20 billion, which by itself does not mean much, but if the Japanese launch is a success there is a distinct possibility that Sprint NexTel will follow suit. More significantly, phone geeks might have noticed that the Motorola Razr 201M looks remarkably like the Motorola Droid Razr M. Any resemblance is purely intentional; it is the same device, which means that the required Kernal Module is already available and may well be shipping in the US Droid Razr M. For that matter, the Kernel Module may well be present in every other Motorola smart phone that has been released in the last few months, which is something that puts VMware in just the right position for a big announcement in the new year with a US carrier.

After one of the longest, longest, gestation periods of any technology that I can recall – VMware Horizon Mobile is finally on the way.