RealTime IT News

Smart Phones for the Enterprise

SAN FRANCISCO -- Hammering home a theme of "mobility for everyone," a trio of industry executives kicked off the CTIA Wireless conference here in a series of keynote addresses today. Microsoft , Nokia and Intel all gave distinct pitches on where they see the mobile market headed, though reaching new customers was a unifying theme in all their remarks.

"There is a huge opportunity in messaging and line of business applications," said Suzan DelBene, a vice president of marketing at Microsoft's mobile and embedded devices division. Of Microsoft's 130 million Exchange clients, DelBene said, Microsoft estimates only 10 to 15 million have a mobile phone solution.

Nokia also plans to add to some already impressive numbers. Last week, the cell phone maker announced it had sold more than a billion handsets. "Our experience is in the consumer space, now our next challenge is in the enterprise," said Mary McDowell, a vice president and general manager of enterprise solutions at Nokia. "Today mobility is something of an executive toy, and we think that's about to change."

One driver of that change is the inevitable convergence of voice, data, the Internet and other technologies to make the phone more of a primary information tool than an accessory. McDowell also pointed to a near-term future where cellular and IT worlds converge in such areas as newer IP-based PBXs and a lessening of the need for separate land lines.

But in a refreshing departure for a vendor presentation, McDowell also warned that companies shouldn't just hand out the latest mobile smart phones and tell employees to go out and be productive. She said companies must consider a multitude of factors in rolling out a mobility program across a significant portion of the enterprise.

Some examples: Is security covered? Which applications are designed for mobile devices? What are the costs associated with the devices and, if there is going to be personal use, will the company pay or split that expense with the employee? Who has access to the devices?

Peter Johnston, a regional vice president of IT at WPP (the parent company of several large media and public relations firms), said a large majority of the 6,500 of his company's worldwide employees could benefit from mobile technology. Johnston, who joined McDowell on stage, praised the power and capabilities of Nokia's latest 9300 smart phone, which he took on a recent trip to Asia and several other countries. But he also pointed out several shortcomings and improvements he'd like to see in smart phones in general and in the infrastructure that supports them.

"I'd like to see the service providers give us seamless Web browsing for all the devices so we [WPP and other companies] can develop applications we know will work over a VPN ," said Johnston. Other points: Johnston said smart phones still don't have the IQ to deal effectively with attachments, and more development work on enterprise applications for mobile is needed.

The rest of his wish list includes an integrated USB port to take advantage of tiny gigabyte storage devices, and an interface to LCD projectors transforming the cell phone into a handy source of presentation material.

Nokia's McDowell said her company was working on some of Johnston's requests and has a particular focus on making smart phones more useful to enterprise customers. "We have a little different perspective than some other vendors," said McDowell. "We don't see cell phones as 'junior' laptops but as the principal productivity tool to keep connected to customers and your colleagues."

Intel's Sean Maloney, vice president of the chip giant's mobility group, spent a fair bit of his keynote discussing full-featured notebooks. He demonstrated test versions of Intel's forthcoming dual-core "Yonah" processor inside a prototype Fujitsu notebook versus several notebooks sporting standard, single-core Intel chips. The dual-core machine loaded PowerPoint slides, rendered images and backed up files significantly faster than the other notebooks. For example, a network backup took four seconds on the Fujitsu, versus over 30 seconds on the other systems. Notebooks based on Yonah are expected out next year.

Maloney also made note of news released earlier in the day that Research In Motion , maker of the BlackBerry device, will be using Intel's XScale processor in forthcoming BlackBerry handhelds. In a demo, he showed video running at 230 frames per second via an XScale processor running at 1.2 GHz.

"You may not need this speed all the time in a device like this, but it just shows there is enormous headroom there," said Maloney. "For video or running multiple applications, you will need more power and want to run it in an efficient manner. We're looking at four generations of this processor and, just like the PC, you'll see us providing more performance over time in the same price envelope."