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Analysis: How Smartphone Platforms Compare

Business-technology buyer's guide to the BlackBerry, Linux, Mac OS X, Palm, Symbian, and Windows Mobile platforms.

Smartphones get attention for their sleek designs and multimedia pizzazz, but it's their operating systems that give them their genius. The operating system determines a phone's features, performance, and security, providing APIs for add-on applications and technical hooks to manage it all. That's why IT pros pay more attention to the underlying software than to the hardware when shopping for these devices by the hundreds or thousands.

Five operating systems--BlackBerry, Linux, Palm, Symbian, and Windows Mobile, each with its strengths and weaknesses--account for most of the smartphone market. Apple's unveiling of the iPhone, packing a downsized version of the Mac OS X, throws a sixth contender into the mix. The following analysis will help IT organizations sort out their options by focusing on their suitability for business. Music and text messaging are fine for the teen set, but how good are these devices at word processing, spreadsheets, and run-your-business applications?

chartSmartphones are becoming mobile computers, loaded with Web access, e-mail, calendars, and dozens of other options. The challenge is selecting a phone that fits the needs of mobile workers without becoming an IT support nightmare. Two-thirds of respondents to an InformationWeek survey this month cite security and manageability as top smartphone software features. Multimedia support--a must-have among consumers--ranked dead last.

Security is the first criterion for any hardware that Planned Parenthood Federation of America standardizes on, says Wayne Markover, director of IT technical support. Planned Parenthood staff use one of two smartphones: Research In Motion's BlackBerry or Audiovox's XV6700 running Windows Mobile. The BlackBerry stood out for its strong security and e-mail, while Windows Mobile offered the best integration with Planned Parenthood's Exchange server.

The top U.S. cellular carriers--Cingular, Verizon Wireless, and Sprint--have made progress over the past year upgrading their networks to support high-speed data services, and T-Mobile is pouring $2.7 billion into its infrastructure. The upgrades make it more feasible for road warriors to access applications while on the move. Demand for wireless access to business apps is fueling smartphone sales. In the first half of 2006, 38.5 million smartphones were shipped worldwide, up 75% from the same period a year earlier. More than 200 million of the devices will ship annually by 2009, In-Stat predicts.

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