AHEAD OF THE CURVE: Mobility's end game

AHEAD OF THE CURVE: Mobility's end game

It's like the browser wars all over again: Two vendors are battling to win the hearts, minds, and debit cards of users and developers. The browser wars were really platform wars, based on the assumption that the browser would be the nexus through which users would access data inside and outside their company's walls. The battle hymn is sounding once more, only this time it's a ring tone. I'll get to the connection between the browser wars and the enterprise mobility race at the end.

The roving professional desires one mobile platform that will call and manage contacts while supporting email, calendaring, and add-in applications. To make it to the big time, the devices will need exceptional centralised management support so that fleet and group deployments won't require calls to wireless operators for adds and changes.

Vendors after a substantial share of the mobile enterprise market must convince everyone that their mobility solution is the most flexible. Customers must be convinced one user at a time, which makes the vendor's choice of standard features critical (What did your mobile device do the instant you took it out of the box?).

The gold standard for out-of-the-box effectiveness is Pocket PC Phone Edition devices. The one that grabs me is HP's h6315, a PDA/phone with a QWERTY keyboard. I've long said that I'd flip for the Pocket PC platform if someone would slap a keyboard on it. HP did, and now Pocket PC is a mobile device to be taken seriously, not only because it's functional when you first turn it on, but also because Microsoft did that .Net Compact Framework thing that makes developers so happy. The HP h6315 ships with great apps and programmers can write new ones in Visual Basic.

That's hard to beat, but Microsoft's petite Windows Mobile-based Smartphones aren't nearly as loaded as the heftier Pocket PC in terms of standard apps or programmability.

And that's where this battle tips in favour of Nokia, which I consider to be Microsoft's foil in what I predict will be primarily a two-vendor race.

Nokia just hooked up with Intel to solve its slow processor issue; it's using Intel's XScale processors to allow its smartphones to accommodate more powerful applications.

If those applications come from third parties, Nokia is at a slight disadvantage. Pocket PC and Windows Mobile apps can evolve from larger .Net desktop applications. But Nokia is lighting a rocket under its developer community and is giving away a fat (too fat?) portfolio of development tools and documentation.

Nokia has oodles of branded handsets and a stable client platform as it sets its sights on Microsoft's stronghold, the back office. What's more, Nokia has the advantage of strong ties with wireless operators, mobile standards bodies, and the Java community. Nokia can play that to create single-source, mobile solutions packages that include standards-based device management. Meanwhile, Nokia is advancing one of my pet projects, a behind-the-firewall appliance that manages a fleet of mobile devices.

So, what does the battle for domination of the mobile client platform have in common with the browser wars of old? End-to-end dominion. The vendor that owns the client platform is a shoo-in for the back end and middleware. And the contest starts the second you peel the protective plastic off your device's display.

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