It may seem unusual to look at consumer-oriented products when shopping for IT solutions, but if you look at the history of the technology market, some of the most important products that we use in business today have their roots in the consumer arena.
One example is the CD-ROM. In the late 1980s, the CD-ROM was called the “new papyrus” and used initially to create consumer-oriented multimedia titles. But by the early 1990-s, this new interactive publishing media was being used in business to deliver content for presentations, manuals and even interactive advertising.
And the Apple II, first used as a hobbyist machine, became a legitimate business tool after Visicalc, the first spreadsheet, was written for this “consumer oriented PC” and helped launch the business software market. Even the roots of the original telephone go back to its use as a ‘person-to-person’ consumer communications medium. And most of the VoIP products out today, such as the most popular one from Skype, are aimed at individual consumers but are rapidly gaining acceptance in the enterprise.
With that in mind, I often look at products designed for consumer markets and try to visualize their use in mainstream business. One such product I have been testing recently seems to have a lot of potential for mobile enterprise users and comes from a Palo Alto, Calif.–based company called Danger. They have created what I call the “BlackBerry for consumers,” known as the Danger hiptop. This is a two-way voice and data handheld that was designed specifically for consumers. What sets it apart from the BlackBerry and even products like the Treo 600 is its landscape orientation—its slide-up color screen sports the best graphical user interface I have seen on a device of this nature. It is so good that you can access and activate almost all of its functionality from its thumbwheel and navigate through its menu very quickly in order to launch any application. The only time I even have to use my other hand when working with the hiptop is when I am using their exceptional keyboard to tap out e-mail or instant messages.
In addition to design, also alluring is the hiptop’s price. In the United States, the Danger hiptop is offered by T-Mobile (which calls it the Sidekick) for $199.00, with an all-you-can eat data plan for $29.95—or less, if you opt for a T-Mobile voice plan as well. And while you can use it as a phone, it works better with some type of hands-free earpiece.
Interestingly, when Danger first brought the hiptop to market, they were going after an audience that was relatively young and wanted a small, handheld device they could take with them for e-mailing and instant messaging. They soon realized that the teen market was “financially challenged” and their target audience is now Gen Y and Gen X, who have a bit more expendable income.
Danger’s most ardent customers are on-the-go types in the movie, music and advertising industries. Danger says record labels have outfitted their field staffs with hiptop, and the devices are popping up in marketing firms and design firms as well. They’ve also become a hot product in the political arena, as various political consultants have made it their two-way data device of choice. Additionally, Oracle just bought a couple hundred hiptops and has built custom java apps to help employees access Oracle’s internal systems. Because it has its own OS and UI, creating enterprise applications for this device takes customization, although Oracle has shown that you can use Java to create custom apps if needed.
But, if it’s mainly used to access and send e-mail from a wireless handheld system, as well as using IM and basic calendaring, then I believe this could be considered a lower-cost alternative to RIM’s Blackberry. And, given its user-friendly interface, great keyboard and extra-bright color screen, it could end up becoming a useful mainstream business tool in the very near future.
Tim Bajarin is President of Creative Strategies (www.creativestartegies.com) a Campbell, Calif.-based consultancy.