I've been spending a couple of hours each day on the phone with wireless carriers, makers of wireless handsets, retailers, and others involved with selling the latest things in wireless devices. The reason is to be ready for a program on National Public Radio (NPR), where I'm supposed to sound like I know what I'm talking about. In this case, I'm supposed to tell everyone what's new and cool about smartphones.
What I've learned is that the latest things that everyday consumers want aren't the same as the familiar BlackBerries and Windows Mobile devices that you see in use in business and enterprise settings. Of course, lots of ordinary consumers do in fact buy BlackBerries, but they're not considered to be the coolest things by the smartphone cognoscenti.
To those of us in the world of business, the iPhone is the latest, most radical and coolest phone out there. But in reality, the iPhone is very much yesterday's product. Apple's failure to make it an open platform, and the lack of some functions that many users think are critical-like multi-tasking-have doomed it to being the phone that the grownups use. It's the one that works with your corporate e-mail, the one that has limits on the material that lives on it, and the one that charges you money for applications. It's really just so out of date it's not worth talking about it.
What's new are Android phones and other devices that provide what seems to be an open platform for cutting edge software, and a device that does everything the iPhone does, but doesn't limit you. Consumers these days want to be part of a larger world-one that involves Facebook, Twitter and a bunch of other social sites that spring up almost on a daily basis. E-mail is yesterday's technology. Corporate e-mail is beyond boring.
We've been thinking that the ability to delete your annoying e-mail is the best part about a BlackBerry. Now, it seems, e-mail isn't really relevant.
So the question is why you should care. After all, you have enough trouble incorporating the iPhone into your enterprise-a task you would have declined to do if it weren't for the fact that the CEO has one and wants to use it. There are actually at least two reasons why you should care. The first is that some of your users will probably buy one of these new, social-networking-based smartphones and want to use it at work.
The second reason you should care is because these new devices may be able to offer you capabilities that you can't accomplish now. They may, in fact, be good for business. Then just ask yourself, when was the last time you could contemplate creating your own applications for mobile devices? When was the last time you could hold a brainstorming session without everyone in the same room? When was the last time you actually knew where your staff was and what they were doing?
Unfortunately, there are some real problems with using some of the newest smartphones in the enterprise. Many of them don't have the security they need to meet compliance regulations, for example. Many of them also don't have the ability to work with corporate e-mail systems or your company appointment book. These are the reasons you bought the devices you did, after all.
What's surprising about smartphones today is that they are growing in their capabilities faster than almost any other platform that might find itself part of the enterprise. Yes, they have their own set of limits, but it's not going to be long before the carriers that sell these things start eyeing your enterprise as their next target, and bringing with that interest the features that will make the new devices work for you.
So why should you care about Android smartphones and the other similar devices? The reason is simple. They'll be in your enterprise next year. Be ready for it.