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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.

Moving forward, enterprise smartphone apps are likely to evolve as rapidly as the handsets upon which they run. Nick Brown, VP of mobility and analytics at SAP, sees current mobile clients--like MySAP CRM--as just the beginning. "We look at it like, SAP can be like Facebook, where you can get capabilities that are broadly available, like text messaging, but aren't leveraged very well today," he says.

Another emerging trend could come as a rude shock to smartphone users who think of enterprise apps as a nuisance to bear on devices they covet mostly for their consumer utility. Namely, in the interest of control, some IT departments are considering tightly locked-down devices.

"Enterprise customers come to us and say they don't want all the applications that the carriers are putting on the smartphone," says Stephane Maes, VP of smartphone product marketing at Palm, which offers both Windows Mobile and Palm OS-based handsets. "They want a plain-vanilla device, as well as specific settings and applications loaded on the device that can sustain a hard reset. This enables you to bring a mission-critical app back up easily if there's a lockup or failure in the field."

It's hard to escape the sense that there's a heavy impetus to take serious mobile apps to the next level. While much of that activity has heretofore been below the radar, it's likely to break through to widespread use in the next 18 months. UPMC CIO Drawbaugh says several technologies being accelerated now--specifically, improved solid-state storage and the rise of virtualization--"will drive a dramatic shift in how smartphones will be used."

Says GM CIO Szygenda: "Mobility as a phenomenon is here to stay and should be on every CIO's agenda. My advice is not to ignore it, but to approach it with an enterprise strategy that addresses key issues like security, device diversity, and cost."

[Editor's note, Oct 6: A reference to Dreyer's director of direct store delivery was corrected. He is Mike Corby, not Coffey.]

Photo illustration by Sek Leung

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