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Smartphone Buyer's Guide

Smartphones are building a loyal fan base and connecting to company networks. Here's our in-depth investigation into the top smartphone vendors' strategies, strengths, and weaknesses.

Where Jim Malloy goes, so goes his Palm Treo 650. During a recent trip to China, Malloy used the smartphone to review customer accounts and move along projects that couldn't wait until his return. And there's no prying Treos from the hands of his salespeople, who for the past few months have been accessing a CRM application from the handheld. "If I asked the sales managers to turn in their Treos, they would shoot me," says Malloy, VP of sales at welding equipment company Miyachi Unitek.

In the bygone age of the PDA, getting e-mail by BlackBerry was the mark of business cool. In the emerging smartphone society, cool will be not having to carry a laptop at all. Newer device models from Motorola, Nokia, Palm, Research In Motion, and others cram access to e-mail, the Web, and ever-more business apps and company intranets in with the look and function of a cell phone. Never mind the annoyingly tiny screen and short battery life. With starting prices of around $200, trust us, everyone's going to want one of these. So IT had better be on top of the issues, from which phones make the most sense to the management problems they create. What follows is a buyer's guide, laying out the top smartphone vendors' strategies, strengths, and weaknesses. (See "Smartphones Fall Short In Several Areas" for how IT departments are getting more applications on smartphones.)

The smartphone market is booming. In the first half of this year, 38.5 million were shipped worldwide, up 75% from the same period last year. More than 200 million smartphones will ship annually by 2009, In-Stat predicts. Businesses and individuals are buying them, and smartphone makers are blurring the line, pitching their products as "prosumer" devices for both work and personal use.

What's the most frustrating thing about smartphones?

That's another reason IT managers must pay attention to smartphone growth. Imagine employees bringing devices of all makes and models--yet few security features--into the business to access company e-mail and business apps. Consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton gives BlackBerrys to senior-level employees, letting them submit time sheets from the road, but those who buy smartphones on their own don't have such privileges. For one thing, they lack the security features that Booz Allen had RIM include with the company-bought phones, says Daniel Gasparro, senior director and chief technologist at the company.

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Yet IT teams must recognize that a smartphone is more a personal tool than a PC, or even a laptop, and consider that in the buying process. Brian Lunde, IS manager at LifeSource, a nonprofit organization that links organ and tissue donors with transplant recipients, let employees try out Palm Treos and BlackBerrys and discovered they liked the BlackBerry's functionality better. "Sometimes you want to be impersonal and say, 'It's corporate'--stack them up and have people come in and grab them," Lunde says. He knew that wouldn't work with smartphones. "We still have to listen to the cry of our end users," Lunde says.

So here are the options to consider.

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