back to article Groping your way around the mobile device maze

As part of our series of articles on mobile email, this week we’re tackling the subject of the mobile devices themselves. As the actual user interface of a mobile email solution, as well as a potential replacement or substitute of (for some at least) a very personal item, a number of interesting discussion points are raised. We’ …


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Anonymous Coward

Not enough talking

I think there's a few fundamental problems with device development right now. My organisation has around 1000 mobile users. That breaks down into 50% voice users, 25% mobile mail and around 25%, sales, who have a need for a range of apps including mail. Obviously, we want this from one supplier, and we want to be able to centrally manage the lot - and that means a standardised OS so we can replace wihthout any trouble.

This is where it gets messy for a number of readons. Firstly, voice users don't want a phone that just does voice - they want cameras, MP3's, and other such gizmos. So we had to wrestle with all of them to get some kind of agreement on what they really needed. For financial reasons, we definately didn't want voice users to have either cameras or bluetooth on their phones. We wanted no data transfer to keep the costs down and we wanted no bluetooth for security reasons. But that's a difficult argument to win when everyone wants hands-free kits - despite the phones only being provided for site work, which people are shipped to by means other than their own vehicles.

Then we get into mobile mail - nobody wants anything except a Blackberry. It's all anyone has heard of, lots of them thought it was a 'cool' device, and therefore this was the only solution they could accept - despite being offered much better solutions.

For the heavy users with the requirement for access to their desktop apps, by and large, it was one headache after another. Talk about project creep. And it wasn't just the users, it was their managers, the board. Firstly they needed access to mail and CRM, then they needed GPRS too, (ouch) then they definately needed MP3 - because someone had the smart idea of recording post sales notes on the device and uploading them into the CRM system so that sales could subsequently listen to the notes as they drove to the follow-up meeting. Nice idea. We almost got close to a stanard too - but then it broke down once again when we came to finding appropriate hands-free kits, and headsets.

I think my overall point is that finding devices is bad enough but once you get into the true requirements for every user in your orgaisation it's not just the devices that you have to care about - it's all the peripherals too, which turn the whole thing into such an incredible pain.

I beleive this points to a number of shortfalls in th emobile market altogether - there's no one that can provied the full range of services - we need one of the big boys Mobile firms to buy garmin, sony, B&O, IBM and plenty more before this becomes a soltuion you can take off the shelf. Currently, from our experiences, it's almost more hassle than it's worth. We must have spent a year trying to get to the bottom of this - with, ironically, an overall aim of increasing productivity.

Oh, and let's not forget that whilst everyone was trying to finalise a spec for each party, the market itsel was brining out new kit every other week - it's constant moving target at both ends.

Anonymous Coward

Too many devices

People are generally reluctant to carry around 2 devices - one for work and one for personaly use, so if the employer supplies the users sole handset the user tends to expect something 'cool', that suits there lifestyle. As peoples idea of cool varies, this can lead to the requirement for many different devices to be supported.


mobile device maze

This is not a one device fits all question.

I chose the bluetooth phone + ipaq aproach as all the usable pda-phones were to big for out of hours use. the 2 device method allowed the users to leave the pda and email behind when it was not needed. This works for us because we are not a 24hrs company.

The PDA also has the advantage of the additional software available, such as Cad drawing viewers etc. Making the email attachments work.

And my users don't need "push" email for the enviroment they work in they just need "always available" email which this solution provides.

Finally I can change the phones without changing the PDA anytime.

One option I did look at was Dataviz, Roadsync which gives Microsoft Exchange email to Smartphones, if reading email and a quick reply is all thats needed maybe just some software will fit the bill.

My advice is answer the questions :-

How often do i need my email?

How big a phone am i willing to carry?

How important are email attachments?

How much money have i got?

How much money have i investe in what i have? (carkits, cables, etc)

What do i do with the email when i get it?



All I want!

Gimme an XDA II equivalent that will actually fit in my pocket, won't behave like it's running on an 8088 processor, can actually be turned off to save power, doesn't have a camera button that you press everytime you come in contact with the device, not a huge screen but one big enough to surf the web now and then without squinting, and is actually integrated with the hardware.

A life saving website is one that takes people's requirements and tells them their ideal phone!


It's for business

Assuming we're talking here about business mobile email devices, if an organisation is seriously considering MP3 playing functionality or camera spec that points to something very wrong in their policy making process (unless they're niche markets that actually use that technology for business reasons, maybe estate agents snapping flat interiors or music biz peeps). You want your organisation to buy you a "cool" device? Go buy one yourself, why should the rest of the organisation fund your vanity?

So moving swiftly on, looking at sensible options, I recently evaluated an O2 XDA Exec as an alternative to our Blackberry fleet. We've had berrys every since they arrived in the UK and there's no real imperative to move from that platform (apart from the recent patent litigation scare), but the talk about Windows mobile 5 "push email" had me interested. The fact the device could also do lots of other cool stuff that I currently carry a laptop and iPod for (playing movies and listening to music) was also rather attractive.

The verdict? Yes, it can do everything that I currently carry a Blackberry (email-only), mobile phone (voice), iPod (sounds) and laptop (movies) for, but it's just not good enough at all the tasks. It doesn't excel at any of them. The connection manager seems to lose the plot frequently, dropping connection and not telling you in any obvious way that it has. The phone app is a poor substitute for the immediacy and control of a real dedicated handset. It's just trying to do too much. I have to admit it's much closer to the nirvana of the do-it-all device than last time I played with a Windows CE HP Jornada 720, but it's still not there.

The answer to all of this seems very simple to me. The vanity crowd will never be happy for more than a couple of days with any device you give to them, period. Live with that. Give a Blackberry to the rest and you're sorted, it's that simple. Anyone complains, tell them to fund the thing themselves and stop being a spoilt brat.

Anonymous Coward

A sorry state of affairs

People love to refer to the push email capacity of the Blackberry as a ‘killer-app’ but in reality the email program on a Blackberry handheld is the only part of the process that pretty much works as advertised. The UI is easy to understand, the form factor of most of the devices is comfortable to use, and users require little or no training to start sending and receiving messages. When this can be done so quickly, and with so little pain, there is a real incentive for people to learn about the other features of the device, and even to treat the hardware with respect.

Unfortunately, other elements of the mobile telecoms picture are not nearly so rosy. The Blackberry server software is a nightmare to install, vastly over-complicated to administer, hugely RAM and processor intensive, and expensive to purchase and license. (When an operator can get £30+ per handset per month, why is there no incentive to discount the cost of the software below about £2000?) All of the transparent brilliance of the email application is conspicuously missing from the other PDA functionality, which is hugely disappointing to users and administrators alike.

At the other end of the spectrum, there doesn’t seem to be a single mobile phone on the market that isn’t crippled with stuff designed for schoolchildren. Even if we were willing to fork out virtually unlimited sums of money for our handsets, it would be impossible to choose one that was robust, had a screen which was visible at all times, is responsive to use (please allow me to turn of all annoying animations etc.), has a decent battery life, and is up to date with communication technology. I’d like a decent implementation of WiFi, Bluetooth and 3G (the latter of which I’m prepared to pay quite large amounts of money for high speed data – please just stop trying to peddle me video calling and yesterdays football clips.) And that’s about it. I don’t need cameras, games, minute form factors, MP3 players or any of the other gubbins that clutter up phones and ruin the experience of what should be a business tool.

Surely the last ten years have demonstrated that business is willing to pay real money for services that they can see improving either the bottom line or the morale of the workforce. It is ironic that in the handset arena we have spent the last five years getting further from this goal, not closer to it. I don’t know many people who can honestly say that they prefer their current phone to their old Nokia 6310.

There is a big market out there begging to be tapped. But, with the exception of some parts of the RIM offering, operators, developers and manufacturers all still seem more interested in attacking the teenage pay-as-you-go market. Very disappointing.


Basic service for everyone. Self-fund the rest

I think the earlier posters have some very good points.

In my opinion, give everyone 3-4 handset/smartphone options based on need. Let them pick one. The IT dept. will support those 3-4 options. If anyone wants something else, let them buy it themselves with the understanding that the IT dept. will not support the device itself. If they're vaguely technical that's not really a problem anyway.

This will cut down on the whining about "Bob got the really cool new Pearl" or whatever. Watch out for manager-itis though. Managers often don't appreciate comments like "not supported, I'm sorry, Sir." So a degree of common sense when talking to them and setting up policies is in order.

Another important point is seniority. When upgrading to a new generation of handsets, ensure that they don't just go to managers and the newest employees. Those with long service will most likely have the oldest phones. Put a plan in place to upgrade them gradually and in order of seniority.

Anonymous Coward

It's easy

We went the very simple route - bought a bunch of Nokia's from our supplier and installed opera for our apps, which we webified. It took all of the issues out of the issue, so to speak. And we now have a workforce that uses the phone when they need to - rather than racking up bills for the sake of it.

We did go through quite a bit of pain getting to this point it has to be said - from one extreme to the other - but this is such a simple and easy solution. It's all managed internally, no data is held on the phone - passwords are required for every login.

So we ended up bypassing all of the vendor pain and complexity that everybody discusses above. It was, as they say, rather nice.


Policy is the answer

If you tell people what they can have and why, and then make it policy all of this become sfairly straighforward, in the area of devices.

It's everything else that gets complex - try talking to a vendor about 2000 secure mobile workers with access to a multitude of apps and you'll quickly dissapear into a minefield of partners, whilst rapidly losing the will to live.


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Anonymous Coward

One or two devices?

As with many small firms, our phones tend to be used for both business and personal reasons. During the day, we need email access so carry around BlackBerries with full QWERTY keyboards, and these work fine as phones to make voice calls also. The problem is that most of us think BlackBerries are too big and bulky to use when off duty, even though we often need to remain accessible outside of normal working hours, e.g. when running projects for American clients.

What we ended up doing was subscribing to something called "single number" from our operator (otherwise known as "multi-sim"). This allows each user to have one telephone number that maps onto two devices, with calls routed to them in a particular order. As an example, if the "little" phone is switched on, the call is routed to that. If it is off, the call is received on the BlackBerry. All outgoing calls appear to come from the same number, whichever device is used, and the charges appear together on your bill (as if it were just a single phone). This means you can literally have a daytime and evening device that both work off the same number, without messing around with swapping sims.

The only irritating thing is if you go out for the day with your BlackBerry, leave the little phone at home, but forget to switch it off. Nothing then comes through on the BlackBerry so every call ends up in voice mail. There is also a limitation in that SMS messages cannot be routed in the same way, so they will always come into the same device, but this isn't a big problem for us as we don't really text that much.

On the whole, the approach has limitations but works pretty well, and we like it because it gets us around the impossible challenge of trying to find a single device that is perfect for every situation.


I've been looking for a new mobile, but it doesn't exist

Reading your article on the difficulties of choosing a new mobile solution I was moved to express an opinion. As a hard core IT techie it appears that I am just not catered for. My mobile device requirements as I traverse between home, desks, datacenters and meetings are simple:

1. None of these stupid little miniature keyboard buttons. You can only get 16 or 20 buttons on a phone before they become far too small to distinguish or use easily, always assuming you don't pursue some work or leisure related activity that causes fingertip calluses. If you want to enter text efficiently you need to use a stylus. I don't really want to learn graffiti, or similar, but it seems like a very good time investment that I would definitely make if there was a viable mobile device which used it.

For when I really, really need a keyboard, I'll definitely buy the optional extra flat plugin keyboard that goes limp and rolls up into a chunky magic marker sized case for easy portability.

2. SSH v2 xterm sessions with user configurable certificates (and timely security updates). Also user configurable IPsec and IMAP mail client with readers for standard attachments. I suspect a fixed IP address would be just the ticket here.

3. Synchronisation over (USB and Firewire) cable to Solaris, MacOS X and at least a published API for the Linux and BSD people. (Yes, call me paranoid, but I don't want to use bluetooth: being busier, and more forgetful than I used to be, I'll likely leave it on at some point and go out into the world, my virtual tinted electronic knashers advertising a potential security risk.)

Actually, maybe I should be syncing to corporate LDAP directories over an IPsec encrypted connection, so one day I won't need this any more [glances futilely out the window for evidence of passing pork].

4. Long battery life - as in at least a week on standby. This is more important than having a phone so small I keep loosing it. ["This office has a tidy desk policy?"] When you're away from base and you forget/break your charger you still need to look as professional as possible until you can get your own replacement. As a techie, not being in control of hardware looks bad.

5. Optional extra leather belt clip-on carrying pouch with transparent front bits. I know, it's really naff, but it is also really functional: you'll never drop your mobile out of your shirt pocket in the toilets, and it won't spoil your suit pockets. This is not supposed to be a device destined to win awards for being small.

6. No camera - some locations have interesting security policies.

7. Sensible car installation options. (There may well be already for all I know, but I have no incentive to investigate right now.) I want to be able to drop my phone into a slot in the car and have the car fire up secure short range communications to any headsets it specifically knows about (because I registered them beforehand.)

Now if someone was to make such a thing in a tri-band phone, and maybe add a bar-code/RFID scanner and minimal web browsing to it, just for fun, I'd be queuing up to buy it. Right now, my best hope is that Nokia decide to issue a real replacement for the 6310i, still by far the most popular ever phone with techies by a large margin.

Now I have to admit that while such a beast might be the very thing for work, but it isn't going to score in the fashion department. This brings me to another pet peeve about the mobile phone business. I want to have two phones. A solid, perhaps expensive, work tool that I keep for ages, and an up to date snazzy, polyphonic, photograpic, plastic (cheap replacable) popular style gizmo I can take down the pub. Nothing controversial here I hear you say, but, I want to be able to answer my call on whichever one I have with me at the time. I certainly do not want to fiddle with SIM cards to achieve this. If I have several fixed-line phones on the same line in my house and I answer the nearest one, the others go back to sleep. Why can't we do this yet with mobiles?

I look forward to being embarrassed by being told that I can have all this with device X and Y on network Z.

Finally, thanks to all at el Reg for a great website.


This time I finally went for a PDA/phone.

Just recently bought an Imate JAMin with Windoze Mobile 5. I looked at the Blackberry's but it was the kiddy like nature/layout that put me off. I can touch type, so I don't need a keyboard built into the face of the device; once I got the hang of the stylus thingy; I was pumping out books each time I messaged a bod'. The JAMin could be set up better than a BB IMO and do so much similar function wise compared to the laptop I use all the time.

You see people with company funded phones and wonder how they got away with convincing Bob in accounts they actually needed the latest and greatest BB or similar but I'm more tending towards believing that people should be able to specify what phone they want for work use, just so long as they pay for it. The employer can supply the SIM card, and if their was a 'very easy' way to swap SIM's on the fly, what's stopping workers moving between their own SIM card and the employer ?...

The suits higher up may have to think about having secure area's for data storage that no phone within 50 metres will receive a signal via bluetooth/IR to nullify the bad habits of sloppy workers later on, sort of like a 'shutdown zone'. Like the poster above, I loaded on Opera mobile and I've been blown away by the mobility geekiness it instills; makes one feel very empowered by it all.

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