Groping your way around the mobile device maze
Too much choice?
Mobile Workshop As part of our series of articles on mobile email, this week we’re tackling the subject of the mobile devices themselves. As the actual user interface of a mobile email solution, as well as a potential replacement or substitute of (for some at least) a very personal item, a number of interesting discussion points are raised. We’d like to get your comments and later in the week we’ll do a wrap up and run a mini-survey to close.
With the exception of the BlackBerry, mobile email has largely piggybacked on the back of two existing classes of devices: mobile phones and PDA’s.
As a result, the mobile email handhelds have been subject to the general market forces of this prosumer market segment. This has created a series of problems for ISVs and application developers due to a rapidly changing plethora of form factors, processing power and screen specifications. Is this holding back in-house or external application development in your experience? Do mobile operators have a part to play in managing the suppliers through their superior purchasing power?
Operating systems evolution
Over the past few years, in response to the success of the BlackBerry, arguably a “killer app”, rivals have been rapidly developing alternative solutions that aim to reassert their dominance over the upstart. This has resulted in a rapid evolution of client and server-side software. It’s one thing to force a hardware or software change at the centre, but quite another to change all the end devices themselves. There really isn’t a tradition of operating systems upgrades on mobile devices in the same way as desktop PCs.
Both these factors have been reflected in the feedback that we have received to previous articles. Some have been critical of RIM for unimaginative product development and a relatively closed environment, yet it is a fact that a two or three year old Blackberry still works acceptably, whereas it is less likely that the same could be said of a Symbian or WM handset of similar vintage. It’s one thing to get people used to mobile applications, but quite another to have to tell them that the application is going away after they have got used to it as one of our readers using the Palm OS was forced to do.
When you add the above factors to the sometimes iconic fashion nature of personal mobile devices, you’ve created a real challenge to device standardisation in an organisation. It’s similar in some ways to the old system of establishing a company car policy (before the tax system made it far better to run your own), but different in one crucial respect in that there’s no real justification for giving a CEO a better device than a road warrior. Service providers face similar challenges: coming up with a range of devices that will satisfy a range of potential customers, but which can be managed within a target SLA envelope.
We’d be interested to hear from any of you that attempted to come up with an approved devices list, and the issues you had to deal with during rollout and over time as the environments evolved.
Once the selection and software development process is finished, how do you actually pay for the devices? It’s been about 20 years since the process of cost-justifying mobile phones for sale people happened, and the mechanisms for signing up contracts are established. Mobile data handsets are considerably more expensive than the basic telephone handsets that are usually given free with a corporate contract, so any large-scale migration to mobile data/phone devices will require goodwill (and common sense) on the part of both the service provider and procurement. How long should the expected lifetime of the device be, when the culture for many users today is to change handsets every year to get the latest camera etc.
This is another valuable area for reader feedback. How do you think your staff and suppliers performed in the selection and delivery of mobile email solutions? Did both sides show flexibility, or was it a frustrating process for all?
Training and support
Another cost item is training and support for the new system, including the opportunity cost of sales time. Not everyone is a touch typist, or used to using predictive texting applications. How much of a frustration will some of the keyboard solutions be for users?
With all the jockeying for position going on, Microsoft’s entry into the field of push email and alternative solutions being tried and adopted by some of you, what are your tips for the next stage in the evolution of mobile devices? Do you think that the hardware manufacturers and developers are involved in a sensible dialogue with you, their customers, about your business requirements as they look to the next generation of mobile solutions?
It seems to us that unless the process is properly managed, and supported by senior management, that the experience of rolling out a mobile email platform could be quite painful, again we’d like to thank you in advance for your feedback and any war stories of successful (or not) deployments and your thoughts and plans for the future.®
This time I finally went for a PDA/phone.
Just recently bought an Imate JAMin with Windoze Mobile 5. I looked at the Blackberry's but it was the kiddy like nature/layout that put me off. I can touch type, so I don't need a keyboard built into the face of the device; once I got the hang of the stylus thingy; I was pumping out books each time I messaged a bod'. The JAMin could be set up better than a BB IMO and do so much similar function wise compared to the laptop I use all the time.
You see people with company funded phones and wonder how they got away with convincing Bob in accounts they actually needed the latest and greatest BB or similar but I'm more tending towards believing that people should be able to specify what phone they want for work use, just so long as they pay for it. The employer can supply the SIM card, and if their was a 'very easy' way to swap SIM's on the fly, what's stopping workers moving between their own SIM card and the employer ?...
The suits higher up may have to think about having secure area's for data storage that no phone within 50 metres will receive a signal via bluetooth/IR to nullify the bad habits of sloppy workers later on, sort of like a 'shutdown zone'. Like the poster above, I loaded on Opera mobile and I've been blown away by the mobility geekiness it instills; makes one feel very empowered by it all.
I've been looking for a new mobile, but it doesn't exist
Reading your article on the difficulties of choosing a new mobile solution I was moved to express an opinion. As a hard core IT techie it appears that I am just not catered for. My mobile device requirements as I traverse between home, desks, datacenters and meetings are simple:
1. None of these stupid little miniature keyboard buttons. You can only get 16 or 20 buttons on a phone before they become far too small to distinguish or use easily, always assuming you don't pursue some work or leisure related activity that causes fingertip calluses. If you want to enter text efficiently you need to use a stylus. I don't really want to learn graffiti, or similar, but it seems like a very good time investment that I would definitely make if there was a viable mobile device which used it.
For when I really, really need a keyboard, I'll definitely buy the optional extra flat plugin keyboard that goes limp and rolls up into a chunky magic marker sized case for easy portability.
2. SSH v2 xterm sessions with user configurable certificates (and timely security updates). Also user configurable IPsec and IMAP mail client with readers for standard attachments. I suspect a fixed IP address would be just the ticket here.
3. Synchronisation over (USB and Firewire) cable to Solaris, MacOS X and at least a published API for the Linux and BSD people. (Yes, call me paranoid, but I don't want to use bluetooth: being busier, and more forgetful than I used to be, I'll likely leave it on at some point and go out into the world, my virtual tinted electronic knashers advertising a potential security risk.)
Actually, maybe I should be syncing to corporate LDAP directories over an IPsec encrypted connection, so one day I won't need this any more [glances futilely out the window for evidence of passing pork].
4. Long battery life - as in at least a week on standby. This is more important than having a phone so small I keep loosing it. ["This office has a tidy desk policy?"] When you're away from base and you forget/break your charger you still need to look as professional as possible until you can get your own replacement. As a techie, not being in control of hardware looks bad.
5. Optional extra leather belt clip-on carrying pouch with transparent front bits. I know, it's really naff, but it is also really functional: you'll never drop your mobile out of your shirt pocket in the toilets, and it won't spoil your suit pockets. This is not supposed to be a device destined to win awards for being small.
6. No camera - some locations have interesting security policies.
7. Sensible car installation options. (There may well be already for all I know, but I have no incentive to investigate right now.) I want to be able to drop my phone into a slot in the car and have the car fire up secure short range communications to any headsets it specifically knows about (because I registered them beforehand.)
Now if someone was to make such a thing in a tri-band phone, and maybe add a bar-code/RFID scanner and minimal web browsing to it, just for fun, I'd be queuing up to buy it. Right now, my best hope is that Nokia decide to issue a real replacement for the 6310i, still by far the most popular ever phone with techies by a large margin.
Now I have to admit that while such a beast might be the very thing for work, but it isn't going to score in the fashion department. This brings me to another pet peeve about the mobile phone business. I want to have two phones. A solid, perhaps expensive, work tool that I keep for ages, and an up to date snazzy, polyphonic, photograpic, plastic (cheap replacable) popular style gizmo I can take down the pub. Nothing controversial here I hear you say, but, I want to be able to answer my call on whichever one I have with me at the time. I certainly do not want to fiddle with SIM cards to achieve this. If I have several fixed-line phones on the same line in my house and I answer the nearest one, the others go back to sleep. Why can't we do this yet with mobiles?
I look forward to being embarrassed by being told that I can have all this with device X and Y on network Z.
Finally, thanks to all at el Reg for a great website.
One or two devices?
As with many small firms, our phones tend to be used for both business and personal reasons. During the day, we need email access so carry around BlackBerries with full QWERTY keyboards, and these work fine as phones to make voice calls also. The problem is that most of us think BlackBerries are too big and bulky to use when off duty, even though we often need to remain accessible outside of normal working hours, e.g. when running projects for American clients.
What we ended up doing was subscribing to something called "single number" from our operator (otherwise known as "multi-sim"). This allows each user to have one telephone number that maps onto two devices, with calls routed to them in a particular order. As an example, if the "little" phone is switched on, the call is routed to that. If it is off, the call is received on the BlackBerry. All outgoing calls appear to come from the same number, whichever device is used, and the charges appear together on your bill (as if it were just a single phone). This means you can literally have a daytime and evening device that both work off the same number, without messing around with swapping sims.
The only irritating thing is if you go out for the day with your BlackBerry, leave the little phone at home, but forget to switch it off. Nothing then comes through on the BlackBerry so every call ends up in voice mail. There is also a limitation in that SMS messages cannot be routed in the same way, so they will always come into the same device, but this isn't a big problem for us as we don't really text that much.
On the whole, the approach has limitations but works pretty well, and we like it because it gets us around the impossible challenge of trying to find a single device that is perfect for every situation.