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Best Smartphone Platforms For Business

A smartphone's OS drives its productivity-enhancing powers. Here's a guide to choosing among Windows Mobile, Blackberry, iPhone, Nokia S60, and Google Android.

Not all smartphones are created equal. They draw their productivity-enhancing powers from the platform they use, rather than the hardware running it. What, then, makes for the best enterprise smartphone platform?

There is no single answer to that question. According to the experts we spoke to, different platforms are suited to different purposes. Each has its strengths and weaknesses, but in the long run, Microsoft's Windows Mobile and Research In Motion's BlackBerry OS are the two clear winners for most enterprise purposes. Here's a step-by-step primer on how to pick the platform most appropriate for you.

Determine What It Will Be Used For

Gartner classifies smartphones into three categories. Devices that can access e-mail without security measures, as well as run other, simple applications are granted "concierge" status. In short, what this really means is if your CEO comes down to the IT shop and says, "Support this device," it can (and probably should, if he's the one signing your paycheck) be done. But it isn't recommended. The first-generation iPhone falls into this category.

Next up are what Gartner terms "appliance-level" devices. These devices can sync with Exchange, have basic security measures, such as device wipe and passwords, and can run a wide range of third-party applications. This is where BlackBerrys, Nokia's S60 smartphones, and many Windows Mobile devices fall.

Last, there's "platform-grade" devices. These are devices that Gartner recommends for companies that wish to develop their own in-house applications, but can also run third-party apps and have the necessary vendor support. Windows Mobile also falls here.

If all your organization needs to do is mobilize e-mail, the appliance-level devices will be just fine. If you have a deep base of internally developed line-of-business applications that are core to what your mobile workforce needs each day, you'll need to choose devices that fall into the platform grade.

Figure Out Where It Will Be Used

Figuring out how a device will be used is the next question IT needs to answer in choosing an OS. If you're equipping a field workforce that will roam near and far and expose their hardware to the elements, a standard smartphone isn't going to be appropriate. A field force requires hardware that's more robust, rugged, and able withstand the rough-and-tumble life in a truck. That means something along the lines of a Motorola MC-35 Enterprise Data Assistant or an Intermec 700. Right now, Windows Mobile pretty much has a stranglehold on this market.

Typical road warriors, however, can get away with an off-the-shelf smartphone from RIM, Nokia, or any Windows Mobile licensee and pretty much be safe. Once this question in answered, you can move on to step number three.

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