If there was plenty of anything at the 3GSM conference held in Cannes, France, back in February, it was smartphones. Every manufacturer, it seems, rolled out a slick new doo-dad capable of accomplishing any task, business or otherwise, you put before it. Of course, “smartphone” is a liberal moniker these days, and you can find it applied to low-end phones running J2ME or BREW that happen to have enhanced PIM functionality as well as the all-the-bells-and-whistles hardware running Symbian, Microsoft Mobile OS and Palm OS. So what, then, is a real smartphone
Ask most experts and the answer you’ll receive is that a smartphone need do more than just manage your contacts and calendar (which, by the way, it should do superbly). Running applications, whether they be e-mail, sales force automation or inventory tracking software, is what helps to set smartphones above their consumer kin. The problem is that the gap between the enhanced consumer device and the bare-bones enterprise device is narrowing swiftly, as carriers, handset makers and third-party vendors seek to enter any part of the monthly revenue stream generated by subscription services like mobile e-mail. (I can’t tell you how many e-mail demonstrations I saw at both 3GSM and CTIA.)
In order for a smartphone to run serious enterprise applications, it is most likely based on one of a few platforms (i.e., the ones offered by Symbian, Microsoft, Palm and RIM). Developers number in the millions for these platforms and are creating applications left and right to serve every conceivable business need. Let’s look at each of these platforms and how they serve the smartphone.
The Palm OS is perhaps the most familiar of the smartphone operating systems. Pioneers of the PDA, PalmSource has worked hard to create an easy-to-use system that syncs seamlessly with the desktop. Only as the market changed direction did PalmSource develop an operating system that is compatible with phones, the latest offering being Cobalt 6.1.
As a highly modular and scalable implementation, Palm OS Cobalt version 6.1 offers standard telephony support and usability features as well as standard integration of wireless technologies such as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. It permits for stylus entry and works well with palmOne’s famous hardware. It boasts built-in network support for GSM/GPRS, CDMA, 802.11b and Bluetooth; supports J2ME, .NET and SOAP; SSL support for POP, IMAP and SMTP; and major enterprise software support (IBM, Seibel, BEA and SAP).
Off-the-shelf applications abound, and because the Palm developer base is strong (over 300,000 registered), customized enterprise solutions will be easy to drum up.
To dispel any confusion, the Redwood-based company offers three products under the banner Microsoft Mobile OS. First is Pocket PC, which is for PDAs. It permits stylus input and comes with heftier devices with more computing power that may include Wi-Fi and Bluetooth communication. Next is Pocket PC Phone Edition, which adds phone functionality to PDAs that have cell phone modules embedded in them. These usually are PDA-centric and have a software keyboard. Last is Mobile OS for smartphones. This OS does not allow stylus input (yet) and is generally navigated with a thumb-stick or jog dial on the phone. It is found on phone-centric, rather than PDA-centric, devices.
They all offer “Pocket” versions of Word, Excel, Outlook, Explorer and PowerPoint, which allow users to at least view documents and in some instances make changes to them. The basic advantage here is that we’re all pretty much familiar with Microsoft products, and learning to use MS Mobile-based smartphones is really quite simple. They sync with your Outlook mailbox and contacts databases easily and, depending on your carrier and data plans, make retrieving e-mail a cinch.
Myriad applications are available for the platform, so if your enterprise requires a Microsoft-based product for compatibility, it’s an easy choice to make.
RIM’s BlackBerry Operating System is a proprietary J2ME-based platform. A bit more restrictive than the others, it’s still highly functional for the business user. True, RIM is known mostly to serve the mobile e-mail market with its devices, but RIM has recently begun to license its BlackBerry Connect e-mail system to other companies that provide similar hardware.
The operating system is as easy to use as they get, and once the server is installed, using BlackBerry’s e-mail solution is addictive. The OS also lets you manage PIM data as well as browse the Web and other standard phone feature sets. J2ME is not as robust a platform for which to develop custom applica tions, but it can still be done if needed.
Unlike U.S.-based Microsoft and PalmSource, Symbian is a U.K.-based software licensing company that develops and supplies the open standard operating system—Symbian OS—for data-enabled mobile phones. The Symbian OS drives standards for the interoperation of smartphones with mobile networks, content applications and services.
Symbian delivers an open, standard operating system to its licensees and is flexible and scalable enough to be used in the variety of mobile phones needed to meet a wide range of user requirements. It supports the complex needs of network protocols worldwide and enables a broad, international developer community. A set of standard application programming interfaces (APIs) across all Symbian OS phones and the advanced computing and communications capabilities of Symbian OS enables development of advanced services.
The ownership of Symbian is split among a number of handset manufacturers, the largest share belonging to Nokia. Nokia’s Series 60 and Series 80 are the most widely adopted Symbian variants. The developer base is enormous (1.8 million registered). Custom applications are a phone call away.
Left to Their Own Devices…
Of course, this is not to say that smartphones must use the operating systems listed above, but they’re a good place to start. Linux-based phones, Motorola’s V3 RAZR for instance, are rising in popularity. Being productive while mobile is dependent on many things, but the endgame usually rests with the applications that the mobile worker can use.
Joining a robust operating system and a speedy wireless data network with an advanced form factor from the handset
manufacturers is what helps make the smartphone such a hit. Not only can mobile professionals access e-mail and PIM data, but they also have the ability to log into
corporate networks, databases and other business essentials while on the go. •