Thin Phones Aren't Enough; Motorola Pursues Mobile App Market - InformationWeek
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Thin Phones Aren't Enough; Motorola Pursues Mobile App Market

A slew of new announcements demonstrates Motorola's efforts to position itself as the go-to vendor for businesses deploying wireless applications and services.

Motorola gets props for its fashionably thin phone designs. Its latest models, which include the MotoFone and MotoKrzr, became available last week and follow the popular MotoRazr. But the ambitions of the world's No. 2 cell phone maker expand far beyond producing phones. Motorola is working hard to position itself as the go-to vendor for businesses deploying wireless applications and services.

The company last week expanded its Motopro Mobility Suite--a development frame- work for wireless applications--with tools that let developers incorporate the ability to conduct searches via Google's Search Appliance. One scenario is an app that lets salespeople conduct searches on customers from the road: They would use mobile devices to wirelessly access their company's Google appliance, which would scan the Internet and internal apps for the requested information. Motorola tapped consulting firm BearingPoint to help businesses build such capabilities into their systems.

Motorola also created a company called CanvasM to develop custom wireless business applications and help companies implement apps and related services--part of a joint venture with IT and telecom services provider Tech Mahindra. It also partnered with Softbank Group for a mobile WiMax trial in Tokyo, created a joint venture with Wipro Technologies to offer outsourced services to wireless telecom providers, and linked arms with Huawei Technologies to jointly develop infrastructure equipment for telecom providers based on third-generation cellular technology. Motorola's name also popped up as part of a multivendor group, including Verizon, Cisco, Lucent Technologies, Nortel, and Qualcomm, that announced it's working to advance the IP Multimedia Subsystem, an emerging standard designed to improve the ability of different types of networks to communicate. The vendors see that standard as a precursor to delivering more types of content and services wirelessly, including voice over IP.

Perhaps Motorola's increased business focus can be traced to CEO Ed Zander, who left his post as president at Sun Microsystems for the top Motorola job in 2004. But it's not the only device maker working to expand: Top competitor Nokia, the No. 1 cell phone maker, is creating a joint venture company with Siemens to offer fixed and mobile network services. That venture will have a powerful presence in 3G cell technology, VoIP, and the IP Multimedia Subsystem, predicts research firm Current Analysis.

Not Easy Stuff
Motorola's vision of a business world awash in mobile apps is nice in concept, but it's not happening in practice. It's difficult to shrink an app for display on a small device screen and tedious for users to manipulate the tiny keyboards on phones. Motorola recognizes these issues and is helping companies address them, says Bob Gentile, general manager of enterprise software. For example, it provides developers with middleware for porting just the pertinent parts of a business application onto a mobile device, making the experience simpler for both developers and users.

Yet businesses must realize that if they look to cell phones as another productivity tool, they're creating another device for the IT department to support. A new study shows that added capabilities already are having an impact on help desks. In a survey released last week by J.D. Power and Associates, 59% of wireless subscribers have contacted their provider within a 12-month period, up from 54% last year and 47% in 2000. The firm attributes the steady rise to the increased complexity of mobile phones, prompting customers to call carriers for help.

In turn, businesses that increase mobile access capabilities may start getting calls from salespeople who are having problems tapping into the company's CRM app. But if the use of cell phones beyond voice and messaging improves business processes and productivity, it could be worth the added strain on IT.

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