Mobile Innovation at the Crossroads
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REDWOOD CITY, Calif. The mobile market is primed for innovation, but it won't all be led by the hip, cutting edge devices like the iPhone, BlackBerry and other well-known smartphones.
"The enterprise customer is looking for extremely practical applications that can help their business," said Marty Beard, president of Sybase 365, the software company's mobile division. "They want to know, especially in this economy, 'What can I do for my employees or reach customers with a basic feature phone'?"
Beard spoke here at a panel at the Dow Jones Wireless Innovations conference today. He said banking services using basic SMS is becoming increasingly popular in other parts of the world and is likely to catch on in the U.S. as more consumers come to rely on their mobile device for information and transactional services.
"No question the iPhone is a game changer," Beard told InternetNews.com, "but the basic phones that most people can afford are gaining more features and there's a lot you can do with them."
As for the enterprise, Beard said he thinks mobility is "in the first inning" of development. "Now companies are doing what should have been done at the beginning, trying to figure out what users need. Basic messaging like a Salesforce alert is a very practical application for a mobile device."
Other panelists noted that RIM had done a good job gaining enterprise customers by focusing on one area, e-mail, in concert with security requirements of IT departments. But in general, it can be very difficult for mobile startups, even with innovative ideas, to develop for the enterprise.
"It's a challenge because there is a high degree of customization each enterprise wants, where a startup wants to do something more cookie cutter they can resell to others," said Matt Niehaus, a partner with the investment firm Battery Ventures.
"Enterprises are of two minds in the wireless space," he added. "It's a fast-growing segment, but it's also kind of a Trojan horse because IT has less control over these devices and that presents certain risks."
Paul Guckian, vice president of engineering at Qualcomm, sees new devices that address specific needs, including healthcare. "Theres the 'elderly phone' idea that includes biosensors to do health checks," he said. "Startups could create whole new device categories like this."
Guckian said Qualcomm is researching ways to improve battery life so highly integrated mobile devices can operate longer. "The innovation to increase battery life and reduce power consumption has lagged," he said.
The Amazon Kindle book reader is one example he pointed to of a new generation of custom devices that have a connectivity element. "And youll see more transactions and point-of-sale applications in handsets in the future," he said.