When I talk with small businesses about technology buying decisions, the question of mobile platforms always comes up – with good reason.
Companies of all sizes are investing significant resources in deploying mobile applications for their staff, as well as building applications for a new generation of mobile users. They need to know what mobile platform is right for them, and for the types of uses strategic to their business.
Here’s my take: When considering these types of purchases, consider the hardware features of the phone to make sure they align with your strategic business needs. You should also consider what applications the phone supports and which ones might be quite useful for your business.
Here's an overview of the four dominant smart phone platforms in order to help inform your business needs.
If the ratio of iPhone users on any given city block is a rough indicator, the Apple iPhone is clearly dominating the market – with consumer users anyway. But hold up, business teams. The device is making more headway in enterprise systems, too, as more business executives adopt the device and request IT support.
However the demand of the iPhone is now more than its hardware features; it’s all about the applications. The major technology trend in the marketplace is that businesses -- especially ones with hosted applications – are developing an iPhone app.
Vendors are all too happy to work with Apple’s software and platform to ensure their applications can be used by iPhone users. Furthermore, companies such as airlines, car rental companies and other industries are enabling their customers to connect with them through the iPhone.
RIM’s BlackBery has been the pre-eminent smart phone for business professionals since smartphones hit the market a few years ago. It’s moved beyond just corporate offices. Solo professionals and consumers also like the BlackBerry for its simplicity and very powerful email functionality.
Although the BlackBerry does not have nearly the applications as the iPhone does, it is playing catch up with its own app store (see link above). Plus, there are many business-specific applications (the ones important to you) for the BlackBerry. It’s not the number of applications that are important as much as knowing which types of apps are important and strategic to you and your business.
The BlackBerry is still regarded by many IT pros as among the most secure mobile device you can use. If you’re in a highly regulated industry, the BlackBerry could be an option for you to consider.
Also, because of its widespread acceptance in enterprise systems – as well the guaranteed support your IT staff can provide, the BlackBerry is among the most popular smartphones for the business set.
Google’s Android operating system for phones is the newest on the market. And it's among the hottest-growing platforms, according to CNET.com and Gartner Research.
The Android, possibly due to Google’s heritage, is one of the more feature- rich phones. For example it has HDMI ports for hooking into larger screens, and free GPS navigation.
All smart phones compete with each other, but the Android is probably the closest competitor to the iPhone than the BlackBerry -- for now.
Since the devices have many similarities, sometimes it really does boil down to which apps you like best and which device supports them. Keep in mind that apps might not work the same on one device as they do on another device.
Windows Mobile and Palm had been the leading mobile platforms for business users for years. Lately, though, not so much. HP just purchased the struggling Palm, whose future software support is in question. Windows Mobile is still quite a viable platform with major support behind it by the world’s largest software maker. That helps.
Plus, there are still many Windows Mobile devices on the market. Microsoft is set to launch Windows Mobile 7 in the fall, but since the product is not out yet, and other great solutions are out now, the Windows Mobile market is a bit stagnated. Finally, you need to ask yourself whether developers are still making as many (or as many good) applications for Windows Mobile as they are for other devices.
When considering a mobile phone for your business, it’s important to know what you want to do with the device, based on your business needs, day to day use, business processes and customer needs.
The type functionality of the device is important - camera, ports, data input and etc. But so are the types of applications that can be used on the device and how they help support your business.
Ramon Ray is founder, editor and technology evangelist for SmallBizTechnology.com, a popular Web site dedicated to helping small businesses make sense of their technology purchases.