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10/2/2008
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Is The Smartphone Your Next Computer?

How BlackBerry, iPhone, Windows Mobile, and Symbian-powered handhelds are becoming over-the-air portals to enterprise apps, and why they could ultimately edge the laptop aside.

Although the iPhone has captured the publicity high ground, all the platform vendors are hotly pursuing this elevated role for the smartphone as a PC-challenging converged device. (All the enterprise software houses support multiple smartphone platforms as well.)

In handicapping the different smartphones, it's not so much a question of who will win. Gartner VP Ken Dulaney says his clients are most interested in Windows Mobile, the iPhone, and Research In Motion's BlackBerry, but he also counts Symbian and Google's Android as serious contenders.

Apple, as always, shows no shortage of confidence in its iPhone, despite IT execs and analysts voicing concerns about its security. Apple sees itself as having raised the bar on the usability front. "We've become the gold standard which our competitors are aiming for," says Greg Jozwiak, VP of iPhone marketing. "But that doesn't mean that they can achieve it. I think what's caused this fascination with the iPhone is it's actually enjoyable to use."

As for RIM, its biggest selling point--in addition to its 1,000 enterprise independent software vendor partners--keys off its pioneering work in "push" technology, a model since adopted by competitors, where data doesn't have to be requested but instead is automatically pumped to a handset. Alan Panezic, VP of software product management at RIM, sees a connection between push and how mobility is respinning enterprise apps.

"The challenge that most CRM systems have is getting the people who need to use it to actually want to use it," Panezic says. "What we've done is create a beautiful push experience. If a user calls one of their contacts, a screen pops up afterward and says, 'Hey, did you want to tie this to a CRM event?' If you've got a contact in your BlackBerry, it gets tied to your SAP contact, and vice versa."

Microsoft likewise points to a boatload of apps as its key advantage. "ISVs have delivered thousands of apps on Windows Mobile phones for a number of years now," says product manager Rockfeld.

Symbian sees its own surge coming, in the wake of the recent open sourcing of its highly regarded mobile operating system (see story, "Symbian Stakes A U.S. Claim"). "The platform is going to be royalty-free and controlled by a completely independent entity," says John Forsyth, VP of strategy. "There's not an equivalent mobile platform out there that matches that. Neutrality, transparency, openness, and stability are incredibility important for anybody looking to define their platform strategy."

GET REAL
When you step back from the competitive platform one-upmanship, two realities remain. The first is that, unlike the bifurcated desktop and laptop markets--PC and Mac--the smartphone market will see at least six phone types in widespread use: iPhone, BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, Symbian, Palm, and Android devices. Developers will have to replicate their efforts to support those multiple workplace devices.

Beyond the nuisance of numerous ports, the more salient issue for IT organizations involves the tools each platform provides to deploy and manage smartphone apps. Here, there's a complex story.

RIM stresses the utility of its Mobile Data System. Panezic describes it as an open standards gateway that allows any type of traffic--"whether browser traffic or traffic that's going to hit some type of application on the device in a rich format"--to be securely pushed in a "wireless-network-agnostic fashion" to a BlackBerry anywhere in the world.

Microsoft points to its System Center Mobile Device Manager as a major differentiator. Microsoft's Rockfeld says it lets IT pros manage the 140 different types of Windows Mobile phones just like they do desktops and laptops.

For iPhone users who think it's all about the App Store, Jozwiak explains that Apple lets enterprises push applications out directly to their own users.


Salesforce.com is among the first iPhone enterprise apps

Salesforce.com is among the first iPhone enterprise apps
When it comes to deploying enterprise apps on smartphones, security could become the elephant in the room (for more on securing mobile devices, see "Rolling Review: Smartphone Security"). "I get a number of customers calling me up saying, 'We're going to go with the iPhone,'" says Gartner's Dulaney. "It's interesting to hear them talk about it, because they're making kind of a hypocritical decision. They go crazy putting security on their laptops, and then they have a BlackBerry where they'll ratchet up the security. But then they'll come over to the iPhone, and they'll break all the rules."

Dulaney says the iPhone can accommodate only the two minimum enterprise security processes: Force the use of a complex password, and wipe data from the device if it's lost or stolen. "But what people fail to realize is, you're only as secure as your lowest common denominator," he says.

Jozwiak points to a long list of iPhone security features implemented after the company listened to enterprise IT pros. Those include Exchange support, industrial-grade VPN and Wi-Fi security, and Cisco IPsec VPN support. Apple also supports two-factor authentication and the ability to remotely wipe the devices of data should they be lost or stolen.

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