The PDA has redefined mobile computing, but mobile phone manufacturers are fighting back, funneling millions of dollars into extending phones’ data and application functionality. IDG’s Mark Jones and Ephraim Schwartz pitted a PDA proponent, HP’s Ted Clark, against a mobile phone advocate, Nokia’s Randy Roberts. At stake: the future of handheld devices. The encounter was civil until the subject turned to operating systems.
Randy, what’s your vision for how the mobile phone will evolve in light of the PDAs corporate popularity?
Randy: We absolutely believe that there’s going to be even more segmentation in these areas, meaning that there is no right answer — there is no one right product or answer for every consumer.
Ted: We (also) believe there’s not a one-size-fits-all strategy here. There’s one set of customers who are maybe more email-centric, and they want to be doing maybe more high-powered email and occasionally talk on the phone. I would call those (customers) more data-centric people. There is another set of people who are more voice-centric.
Let’s say you are a data-centric person, Ted. Do you think you would want a data-centric handheld (rather than) a mobile phone?
Ted: Yes, you’re going to want a little bit bigger screen to get more data and more interaction. You might want a little bit more flexibility in your input device, so you might want a full keyboard as opposed to, perhaps, a 12-key pad.
How will converged voice and data devices affect mobile-device usage, Randy?
Randy: I think as a consumer you’re going to get to the point very, very soon — if not already — where you walk into a big-box retail store and you’ve got all these wonderful devices in front of you and you’re going to have to figure out which applications carry more weight for you.
So how will the purchasing model change as these devices become corporate IT decisions?
Ted: I think that is going to be a fundamental shift in business, (where the) IT department has a much broader reach when it comes to devices like that. When these devices start to touch the data networks, then the IT departments have all of the concerns about manageability and security. It means that standards are going to have to be set. You’re going to look more than beyond just the device, you’re going to look at the whole end-to-end solution you need to make sure that the data gets from point A to point B.
Are IT departments starting to specify what mobile devices employees can use based on corporate requirements?
Randy: Yes, absolutely. But to be honest, for the most part that’s happening with the idea that voice is the application that people are going to be using. The larger companies are just now beginning to ask questions around what’s underneath (the surface) — the operating system, the connectivity, the security layers, and those kinds of things. So when we think about enterprise applications and connecting to enterprise networks, I agree it is about the end-to-end solution. What’s really important is what’s underneath, whether it’s Pocket PC, if it’s Palm, or even if it’s a Symbian operating system, which is what Nokia is using.
Do you think Symbian compares favourably to, say, Pocket PC when it comes to working with enterprise data?
Randy: Yes. We’ve already got the 9210, 9290 devices, for example, that customers tell us connect and synchronise with (enterprise data) and exchange and back-up data as well as any other operating system does. You have to be able to support all the existing applications.
Ted: I guess that’s probably a place where we would disagree. It seems to us that (one operating system) end-to-end is part of the requirement. As the technology matures, you’ve got the same platform on your server, on your desktop, on your notebook, on your handheld, and maybe eventually on your phone. There certainly is reason to believe — and, I think, demonstrated reality that (a common) platform does help IT managers deploy and deal with things like synchronisation and data integrity. I would say that our view is that a Microsoft platform would probably be superior.
Randy: But I would just say there are plenty of corporations that have deployed other operating systems on devices that haven’t had any problem with that whatsoever. What’s important is the back-end systems have to be supported in order to have any sort of success in the enterprise world. And the good news is there’s plenty of selection of different kinds of products that can connect to those networks and bring different kinds of advantages.
What’s your take on the notion of converged devices?
Randy: Clearly, there’s a market for laptops, for PDAs, and for mobile phones. (But) for people who really take their data with them wherever they are, it’s got to be pocketable. It’s got to be something that’s not obtrusive. Clearly, notebooks, sub-notebooks, laptops don’t fit into that.
Where does 3G fit in terms of the mobile-phone evolution, Randy? Does it level the playing field in terms of providing better data access to compete with the high-bandwidth data available for handhelds over Wi-Fi?
Randy: The answer is, frankly, both, because they actually (provide) different kinds of services and (have) different advantages and disadvantages. The idea of a wireless LAN, obviously, is that it gives you the higher speeds and, for the most part, frankly, it’s less expensive to use, especially if you look at the price per megabit. But then again, if you’re not in a hot spot — you need that, what the wireless network is good for.
Ted: Right. It really is all about coverage. It’s about being able to have intelligent devices and networks that — when you’re in proximity of high-speed, low-cost data — you use and as you move and migrate outside of that, your devices and your networks and your intelligence can follow you around.
When will we get to a situation where mobile devices and back-end billing systems and transport systems can manage and account for one device and one user who moves seamlessly between different networks?
Randy: That’s clearly the goal for T-Mobile. Since they operate both networks, they’re trying to get to the point where they do provide one bill and make it easy. On the device side, for example, today the technology already exists that allows you to seamlessly go between a wireless LAN and a GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications). For example, Nokia has a PC Card that slides into a laptop or any other Type II slot. That is a single card that gives you wireless LAN and GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) data capability on one card. And what you do is, you take out our SIM card from your GSM phone, you pop it into this PC Card and put it into your laptop, and now you can seamlessly go between wireless LAN and GPRS network. And the minutes that you use and the data that you use ends up going back to one single bill. So that capability’s here today. It hasn’t yet made its way into being integrated into a smaller device like a PDA or a mobile phone, but very soon now, that will happen.
Is that something HP is thinking about, Ted?
Ted: Of course. It goes back to the scenario that I described of your handheld device that you use on a wireless LAN network to do email and talk on the phone. You can certainly imagine that kind of a device with a wide-area radio and a wireless-LAN radio and using those for both for voice and data as we move to voice over IP. There’s certainly a scenario with voice over IP that would say that that becomes your office phone and all of your voice mail flows into that phone — or at least the acknowledgement of the voice mail. You know what came in; it’s attached to your network. You go outside of your campus, and now you have both wireless wide-area phone and voice at the same time. So this idea that you are going to be able to fit one radio to solve all problems is probably not the case and one that, I think, as these devices do converge, you’ll see more and more.
What do you think will be the top three decision-making requirements enterprises will have when it comes equipping a mobile work force, Randy?
Randy: I guess the first thing would be coverage. So, if you’ve got a national sales force, obviously coverage has got to be a big part of that. Secondly, I would say the ability to integrate with existing systems is really important. And as I said, I think that’s probably the focus of the three big operating systems that are out there today. The third one I would say is, ‘What does the developer community look like?’ If you’re going to adopt a certain end-to-end solution on a device, is there support out there from an application development standpoint to develop what you might need?