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One day my mobile apps prince will come

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Mobile Business Expo The mobile applications market is poised to take off with the emergence of devices like the iPhone, faster wireless networks and web services - but independent software vendors (ISVs) are asleep at the wheel.

That was the consensus of a panel of Motorola, BlackBerry and AT&T executives at the Mobile Business Expo in New York last week. There are few off-the-shelf, plug-and play mobile applications to be had, they said.

But Apple's iPhone SDK (software development kit), speedier Wireless-N networks, and mashup craze will speed up the process. Few expect the iPhone will be widely used by enterprise businesses, but pervasive use by consumers will force all devices manufacturers to improve their displays and platform vendors to create better tools for developers.

"The iPhone is cool but it's not the device you should be using in an enterprise environment. When it comes to mobile business applications such as enterprise asset management, sales force automation and federated IM, the iPhone can get you into trouble," said Cindy Zanelli, executive bizdev director at AT&T. "But consumer applications and devices will bleed into the enterprise space and force change."

Michael Saitow is the mobile-savvy CIO of M.S. Walker, a Somerville, Mass. wine and spirits importer, who has deployed sales force automation, point-of-sale, field service, mail and warehouse management applications on Palm devices, rugged Symbol handhelds and, more recently, on HTC mobile devices running Windows Mobile 6, Mobile Exchange and Pocket Advantage.

He came to Mobile Business Expo in New York because he wants to move beyond those traditional applications and deploy a direct store delivery application. But he can't find a mobile Windows application.

Scary process

"SFA, POS, mail and warehouse management is easy, but this application is hard to come by," Saitow said after the panel, noting that none of his suppliers or competitors are taking the plunge because change management is very important. "It's a scary process and no-one is doing it."

The technology pieces are in place. But the same challenges that stalled adoption in the past persist: uncertainty about how to manage mobile data and devices; who should sell and service mobile applications' and which platform will be the standard.

"We're seeing some maturing of mobile applications but the overall ecosystem is trying to figure out the business equation," said David Heit, a director in the enterprise software group at Research in Motion, maker of the BlackBerry. "Carriers want to target SMBs and they have to rely on VARs and resellers."

"It's spotty at best," said Phillippe Winthrop, an analyst at Aberdeen Group. "Mobile messaging is pervasive but the question of how to take back end applications and leverage the client is a challenge."

But the mobile applications market may be moving out of idling. Microsoft and IBM are said to be developing in their labs homegrown off-the-shelf mobile applications and services.

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