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Device Trends: What's Next?

The ability to communicate instantly, from anywhere -- via voice or email -- remains the key reason for owning a handheld device in the corporate world. But enterprise users and industry analysts see emerging considerations that increasingly influence device purchases: security, changing user interfaces, and, particularly, new mobile enterprise applications.

“There are new technologies for various pieces of the infrastructure, and of course powerful new devices, but for the enterprise user, there is still one overriding need: communication,” says Roger Cass, CTO at Cincinnati-based healthcare firm MediSync.

“Enterprise mobile users are, in my opinion, less interested in up-to-the minute news from the Internet at large or even access to corporate information systems," he notes. "Instead, they rely on other people to send them important information through mobile communications media: email, text messaging, paging, voice calls, and voicemail. Of these technologies, email is the medium for the most complex communications on the most flexible schedule, while voice communication is best for dynamic conversation."

Security showdown
Device management and security will inevitably become far bigger concerns for enterprise users over the next 12 months.

“Most users -- and companies -- have had a ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ security policy attitude and have been lucky up until now,” says Jack Gold of J.Gold Associates. “We expect some major security breaches, and especially compliance breaches, to occur in the next 12 months, as devices get relatively huge amounts of memory and processing capability, and users deploy unsafe practices in keeping data on their mobile devices.” (See Five WiFi VOIP Security Issues .)

“Mobile management and security are the top issues of concern for IT when considering mobility," concurs Forrester Research Inc. analyst Ellen Daley. “The trend is that ‘organic’ mobility -- people buying devices and just connecting to the network -- is getting clamped down on by IT from a policy perspective and is now starting to be enforced via software tools.” “Handheld device ‘lock-down’ will gain traction this year,” agrees Shawn Merdinger, an independent security consultant who has worked for Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and TippingPoint in the past.

iAnywhere Solutions Inc. and Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) are among the major vendors in this space, according to Daley.

New business apps
IT managers will also see more applications arrive on handheld devices, as businesses figure out that these gadgets can do more than just email. (See David Heit, Sr. Product Manager, RIM.)

“We see increased interest in the next year for 'line-of-business' [LOB] applications -- like field service, sales force applications, and logistics -- relative to ‘information’ applications like wireless email,” says Daley.

“Many companies who have already deployed email are now searching for the next thing," adds Jack Gold, "and that next thing will be connections to back-office systems, such as SFA, CRM, dispatch, and time- and expense-management.” This move could benefit Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT), says Daley. She expects Redmond to gain more traction in this space with the newest version of its desktop-like mobile operating system. “Windows Mobile is starting to be chosen for LOB applications,” she asserts. (See AT&T, Microsoft Hit the Road.)

Data entry alternatives
Naturally, others are looking beyond traditional handheld OS suppliers such as Microsoft, Palm Inc. , and BlackBerry into alternative mobile operating systems and new user interfaces for handheld devices. (See Got Copyright, Comrade?)

“The Debian Linux Nokia 770 [smartphone] rocks -- but a faster PDA from Nokia is needed to really show its potential,” says consultant Shawn Merdinger. (See Nokia Brings Java to Linux .)

You can also expect to see voice-recognition systems start to become increasingly prevalent on these mobile devices. ”This may be the year of alternative, multi-modal user interfaces," Jack Gold tells Unstrung. “We are now at a point where embedded voice recognition can actually work, since devices now have very significant processing power and memory capabilities. Look for voice recognition to go from just a dialing interface to a query engine that can retrieve information for users from back-office systems.”

Others, however, dismiss the prospects for more voice-driven handhelds. “I don't think voice has much of a future, as it is hard to keep it secure, accurate, and non-irritating to those nearby,” contends Craig Mathias, analyst at the Farpoint Group .

Wider user pool
But as handhelds break bigger in the enterprise market over the next year, spreading from higher-ups to mainstream mobile workers, vendors will be driven to spice up the types of devices they offer to users.

”We see mainstream companies -- not just early adopters like the previous two years -- defining mobile strategies," says Daley. "These strategies are all-encompassing, including devices, wireless WAN, wireless WAN, and even RFID in some cases.”

”I do not expect the pace of mobile device proliferation to slow down,” adds Gold. “But there will be increasing variety and segmentation in devices, with specific product lines from vendors targeting enterprise users, like Nokia’s e-series, much as happened in the notebook space.”

This could also mean more consolidation in the market as major players pull together the technology they need to present users with a comprehensive mobile strategy. "Many of the smallish companies will fade or be acquired, as the 'big boys' -- MSFT, SAP, Oracle, IBM -- make a more concerted push into the marketplace with middleware and other mobile solutions, and mobility becomes part of their platforms,” says Gold.

Battery bummer
One constant problem for vendors and users in the expanding handheld market will likely not go away soon: battery life, or, rather, the lack thereof. “Battery life is really the only limiting factor these days, says Merdinger. “Storage, CPU, RAM, speed, size, costs are all pretty much solved issues... Battery life still sucks though.” — Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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