The Advent of New Mobile Devices

by Eric Ruck

You know Samsung has truly arrived when it steals the thunder from the newly revived BlackBerry. When people forgive and even accept their somewhat ham-handed attempts at creating a commercial hype machine. And when your grandmother asks if she should get one, even though she’s never owned a cell phone and doesn’t know how to use the cable box clicker.

These may be extreme reactions, but you should be asking what this means for your business. Whether or not you already use Samsung or Android mobile devices, regardless of any mobile strategy you may have in place, regardless of formal or informal ways you use smartphones in the field, you would be wise to consider the current state of mobile. What should you do about the breathless hype?

  • The Galaxy S4 is appropriate for business. Samsung’s Knox security is worthwhile for consideration. If you prefer something that’s more established there’s Good (www.good.com) and the forthcoming Android version of the mobile standard bearer, BlackBerry Secure Work Space.
  • The size of the screen does have advantages for common work tasks such as group calendar and email, and the success of the prior S3 model suggests that the whole package is not too big, but quite comfortable for most users.
  • There are just as many apps as for other platforms, and Android is arguably superior for custom business apps over most other mobile operating systems.
  • The actual hardware should last you more than an upgrade cycle. The technical specifications are impressive. The chips inside should keep your applications running responsively for years to come. Despite the fact that some people don’t like the plastic cases, Samsung phones prove to be exceptionally durable. The enormous, replaceable battery should also not be underestimated, since battery life tends to wane after less than a year, and even on a young battery, being able to hot swap it for a fresh one anywhere can come in handy.
  • There is a negative perception of Android and Samsung—that of “fragmentation.” Many technical pundits claim that Android suffers because there are too many different devices out there, making it difficult to create applications and manage users. While there is some truth to that, it doesn’t make Android necessarily more difficult to manage than other platforms. BlackBerry is far worse, given the broad spectrum of devices, operating systems and capabilities of phones that are still out there in the field. Even Apple suffers with new screen sizes and formats such as the iPhone 5 and iPad Mini.

Today’s mobile hotness is tomorrow’s paperweight. Cell phones and their underlying technology age quickly. This sounds like a call to stay on the cutting edge, but really it’s the opposite. Seek to navigate a middle ground that will let you leverage your past and current mobile investments in the future. The best way to do this is to avoid vendor lock-in as much as possible. And remember, for better or worse the product cycle for mobile is about two years. Whether or not your decisions on mobile worked out for the best, you’ll get another chance in 24 months.

BlackBerry, Nokia and Windows Phone will all still be around this time next year. Perhaps they will be doing better, perhaps they will be looking like digital walking pneumonia, but they will be here, and will be supported. If you already have a commitment to these platforms, there’s no need to panic and jump ship. But you should be working to update your systems gradually to make them more open to the next big, successful mobile environment, even if that environment turns out to be a revived BlackBerry, or yet another new system you’ve never heard of like Tizen (www.tizen.org).

In short, the hype over the Samsung Galaxy S4 is well deserved. It is a solid, well thought out device with a level of security and maturity that is appropriate for any workplace. The hardware improvements provide genuine utility to your end users, and the software is very much there to get your business done.

But should you run, not walk, to your closest phone store? Not really. I would definitely consider it in your plans for a natural upgrade cycle. And if you’re already committed to a platform, and already have the in-house expertise, you should probably stay the course—so long as you include in your plans to steer the course toward more openness in the future.

The one exception is for new feature deployments that stretch your existing mobile system. I’ve seen too many customers with a commitment to one particular vendor or another, who want to roll out a mobile business solution on their existing mobile system that isn’t well supported by that system. In the end they end up spending too much money writing around the shortcomings of their current hardware and creating procedures for their end users that don’t really work well.

Mobile phones and even tablets are basically disposable. You might as well build new systems correctly from the ground up, rather than trying to stuff that brick shaped smartphone into a round hole.

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