Spoilt for choice with mobile hardware

An IT director looking to mobilise the workforce can choose from hundreds of devices. Here we provide an overview of the options and how they fit with business needs.

An IT director looking to mobilise the workforce can choose from hundreds of devices. Here we provide an overview of the options and how they fit with business needs.

The choice of mobile device for the enterprise is growing at a rapid rate. By 2008 it is estimated that there will be more than 500 mobile phone and PDA models.

For chief information officers looking to mobilise the workforce, the choice is difficult. Which device best suits the needs of the enterprise or a particular business function? Which applications can it run? How much will it cost to operate?

There are no easy answers to these questions, and device choice is led by many factors, including the function and usage pattern of the device, the applications that need to be mobilised and the existing corporate back-end systems it will need to access.

If your overall goal is simply to provide voice communications for keeping in touch with a mobile workforce, then it is down to personal choice and the cheapest option (in terms of both device and tariff) - in which case there are literally hundreds of mobile phones to choose from. The key decision for an IT director is whether there is a need to mandate a brand and model of mobile phone across the enterprise.

According to analyst firm Gartner Dataquest, Nokia leads the market, with 30.4% of the share, followed by Motorola 16.8%, Samsung 13.3%, LG 6.2%, Siemens 5.5% and Sony Ericsson 5.5%.

What is clear is that with an increasing dependence on e-mail, the corporate intranet, the internet and other sources of corporate data, converged devices - those that can handle both voice and data communications - are becoming a must-have for the enterprise.

There are two types: PDAs and smartphones. PDAs are essentially handheld computers with voice capability. Generally, they have more sophisticated features and can run a wider range of third-party enterprise applications than smartphones.

For example, enterprise applications for Hewlett-Packard's  iPaq PDA include Outlook, Word and Excel, as well as a broad range of software packages covering collaboration, customer relationship management, field force automation, time and expense management, work order status, customer accounts and presentation tools.

Although smartphones are increasingly powerful, the number of applications available for them tends to be limited by the packages that the network operators put together.

PDAs tend to be more expensive than smartphones, both to buy and operate, and as such, are still the preserve of executives. "PDA-type devices tend to be used by executives, and their cost means they are more likely to be personal investments rather than bought by the business," said Dave McQueen, principal analyst at research firm Informa.

However, the lines between the two are blurring, as shown by high-end smartphones such as O2's XDA, T-Mobile's MDA series, the Nokia Communicator 9300 and 9500 series, and Sony Ericsson's P990i.

By far the most popular choice of device for the mobile workforce is the smartphone. Smartphones are increasingly powerful converged devices, which are primarily phones, but with an advanced operating system that can run corporate applications.

They offer relatively large, colour screens, are lighter than PDAs and tend to look more like a traditional mobile phone.

Analyst group Informa estimates smartphone sales for 2005 were 42.5 million, with that figure set to double in 2006, and eventually reach 200 million by 2008. In contrast, PDA sales have been declining for years, and now account for less than 20% of the mobile device market.

Industry analysts divide smartphones into two categories. Low-end smartphones are defined as mobile phones that embed a number of additional features outside the usual ones found on PDAs, such as MP3, camera, MMS, games, Java or Pop e-mail. Examples might include Orange's SPV C500 or the 3G Motorola A1000.

Although these devices might be used in the business and corporate markets, they specifically target high-end and mid-range segments of the consumer market. They are mainly the domain of the handset manufacturers such as Nokia, Motorola, Siemens, Sony Ericsson and Samsung.

High-end smartphones are defined as primarily PDA-type devices with phone capabilities. Examples include O2's XDA II, Palm's Treo 650, HP's iPaq series, Sony Ericsson's P910i and Research in Motion's Blackberry 7100v.

Another area to consider is the operating system, for which there are five main contenders: Research in Motion's Blackberry, Microsoft's Windows Mobile, Symbian, PalmOne and, increasingly, Linux.

The Blackberry dominates the enterprise market. With more than four million subscribers, the Blackberry provides access to corporate e-mails on a mobile device.

Importantly, the e-mail service is push-based, which means e-mails are automatically pushed to the mobile device without the need for user intervention. The system also synchronises the corporate e-mail inbox between desktop and mobile.

Until recently, the Blackberry service was only available on proprietary devices, such as the 7100v (on Vodafone), and the 7100x or 7290 (Orange). But in the face of user demand for a wider choice of devices - and direct competition from Microsoft, Nokia and Palm (in the US), which have launched their own non-proprietary corporate e-mail systems - the service is now available on a broad range of devices.

These include the Siemens SK65, Nokia 6820 and 6822 smartphones, Nokia 9300 Communicator and O2's XDA II.

"That is what is behind the success of the Blackberry: it does exactly what it says on the tin. It provides mobile access to corporate e-mails, it is easy to use, people understand it, and there are no bells and whistles," said McQueen, adding that the service accounts for the vast majority of large enterprise-wide deployments in the UK.

However, Microsoft recently launched Windows Mobile 5.0, the new version of its mobile operating system, which will compete directly with Blackberry, opening up the device market for push e-mail access even further.

Microsoft is offering a free upgrade to Exchange Server 2003, meaning it does not require an additional server, such as the Blackberry Enterprise Server, and the associated licence fees.

Agreements with Nokia, Symbian, Palm and Motorola, among others, mean that a range of smartphones and PDAs running the new version of the operating system will be available within the next 12 months.

Windows Mobile is already available on Palm's Treo 650, while Orange was the first to launch the operating system in Europe on its SPV C600 smartphone and SPV M3000 wireless PDA.

"It is possible to imagine a scenario in which Blackberry remains the preserve of the executive, while this new Microsoft capability is used to mobilise the corporate masses," said Ovum analyst Tony Cripps.

Microsoft is the second most popular mobile operating system provider, with a market share of about 23% in 2005, according to Informa. It is a long way behind Symbian, with an estimated 59% share of the smartphone market.

Symbian is increasingly being used on high-end devices for executives, such as Sony Ericsson's P800 and P900 series smartphones, or the Nokia 9300 Communicator, as well as lower-end devices such as the Motorola A1000 and Nokia 6680 - both 3G.

Symbian is perceived as the operating system of choice for devices optimised for specific tasks. Although it is by no means entrenched in the enterprise market, it is becoming the favoured operating system for specific business functions, such as devices used by cycle couriers.

The Palm operating system  has tended to be run in high-end devices, with smartphones such as the popular Palm Treo series, but there are now low-end Palm smartphones available, such as the Samsung SGH-i300.

The final option is Linux, which is predicted to pick up market share over the next five years, according to IDC, rising from less than 5% in 2004 to 8% in 2005, and reaching 19% by 2010. Linux is fully open and relatively cheap to implement, and Motorola has just announced the launch of the A910 in the US, a Linux-Java smartphone with Wi-Fi and voice recognition software.

But the operating system is becoming an increasingly poor differentiator in terms of device choice, as cross-licensing agreements and partnerships mean applications can increasingly be accessed on a choice of mobile devices, regardless of the operating system they run. For example, Blackberry is available on both Symbian and Microsoft Mobile-based smartphones.

The launch of smartphones with Wi-Fi capability over the next 12 months, however, could become an important factor in device choice.

"The big device trends this year are more 3G and Wi-Fi devices coming to market, such as the Nokia E-series and N80, Sony Ericsson P990, HTC Universal - variously known as Orange SPV M5000, O2 XDA Exec, T-Mobile MDA Pro, Vodafone VPA IV and i-mate Jasjar - and there will no doubt be many others announced throughout the year," said Cripps.

A Wi-Fi mobile phone would offer free voice and data communications over the office wireless Lan, but would switch to cellular mode outside, cutting voice and data costs significantly.

"In the office, these devices use Wi-Fi, or the wireless Lan, which costs nothing. They then revert to the cellular network outside the building. Combined with data access, it means the mobile becomes a very capable communication device," said Cripps.

Picking a device at first appears to be daunting, but it is a decision that a CIO should not really need to make.

"It would not be sensible to buy a device because you like it and then find out that it does not do what you want it to," said Cripps.

"First, you should think about the applications you want to mobilise. If you then work through the devices and software companies that develop the application, you will probably find that you are automatically guided to the platform or device feasible for your environment."

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