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One device or two? And who chooses?

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Mobile Workshop One handset or two? That seems to be a major point of discussion in the quest to square the mobile device circle.

On the one handset front it has traditionally been a choice between something like a full-on Windows Mobile PDA with all the toys, but which is therefore bulky and has a short battery life (translation, useless on business trips without a charger), and the workhorse mobile phone that leaves the user out of touch until they can get out their laptop (possibly a business restriction, and certainly nothing to boast about at the golf club).

The emergence of hybrid devices that work well as a phone as well as providing data capability has improved things dramatically, but the single device option still represents a compromise for most users – pocketability versus screen real-estate and input capability being the most obvious ones.

With two handsets, you can do slim and sexy with the social gizmos such as a camera and MP3 player, and go bulky on a PDA or the ubiquitous BlackBerry. It's even possible to do this with only one phone number, allowing you to choose which device rings, depending on which one you have turned on.

For business, any of these solutions leads to the contentious question of who chooses the device or devices the user ends up with, a situation that rapidly descends into anarchy if you are not careful.

Comments we have received to several articles in our mobile workshop illustrate the mess that's created when senior management, upwardly mobile professionals and IT staff fight each other rather than looking for common ground in device selection.

At the end of the day, a mobile phone or a mobile email handset is a business tool that is going to have a social element to it. Companies reap the benefit of having access to employees out of hours, with many doing email after they leave the office.

Whether formally agreed or not, there is often an implicit assumption that the user will be carrying around the device outside of normal working hours, and if this is the case, issuing them with an embarrassing, bulky or otherwise undesirable handset isn't a great incentive for the user to cooperate. Spend a little more and give them something sexy that they want to be seen with, or a device that is useful to them personally as well, and you almost guarantee out of hours availability. This is much more of a win-win situation.

Suppliers, users, and dreamers need to find a way to come together and define some common ground that can lead to the development of handsets that meet both business and social requirements.

While this is going on, however, it is important that the mobile industry works with businesses to manage the practical aspects of rolling out mobile data solutions to the workforce in the right way and at the right pace. Protection of investment and minimisation of disruption are key areas to address.

A simple example is ensuring that backwards compatibility for applications, car kits, and other accessories is maintained as product lines evolve, and it is interesting that there is so much debate around devices such as the Nokia 6310i (the old workhorse that is the foundation of so much business mobile phone usage) in this context.

Standardisation of operating systems over the course of time and the decoupling of physical dependencies between devices and accessories through Bluetooth should help, as long as the security concerns with Bluetooth are addressed.

It's also pretty clear that the industry needs better coordination between equipment suppliers, service providers, and ISVs supporting the email and mobile business solutions, along with channel partners that supply and support many businesses. The more this happens, the more organisations will be able to choose the mix of devices that make sense for their business without having to worry about integration and access issues. In this respect, it is good to see mobile operators stepping up to the plate and beginning to act as a catalyst for more partnering activity, though it is clear they can't do it all themselves.

With the networks now falling into place and the inherent capability to provide mobile access being built into so many back end applications, the confusion and complexity around devices is probably now one of the biggest challenges to organisations moving forward in a secure and productive manner.

Given the above, we have constructed a short poll to help us gauge the magnitude of some of the more frequently mentioned issues in our workshop. It's only four simple questions, so if you have a minute to spare (literally), we'd appreciate your feedback here. ®

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