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BlackBerry, watch your back Smartphones for business users

01 Oct 2009

For so long the BlackBerry has ruled the business mobile handset market. But, as Paul Clearwater discovers, there are a number of contenders for its crown.Telecom Chief Executive Paul Reynolds has been sighted using an iPhone and so too have Vodafone boss Russell Stanners and ICT Minister Steven Joyce. But despite this high level endorsement - and its runaway success in the consumer market - the iPhone has yet to topple the BlackBerry as the number one choice for New Zealand business users.Darryl Prince, carrier manager for RIM, which produces BlackBerry devices, says that while connectivity, data and access to information are important to business users, having an external or mobile desktop is integral for many users. “Anything you can do on a desktop you can now also do on a mobile… it’s almost become a remote control of the desktop,” he says.Apple isn’t giving up, however, with more iPhone applications that enable business- related services being added to its app store. RIM won’t be able to shrug it off as easily as it did earlier smartphones from i-mate and Palm, which now appear to have lost traction in the New Zealand market.I-mate withdrew from the New Zealand market after Vodafone discontinued its agreement with the company a year ago, and Palm is rumoured to be changing its focus in New Zealand. The company’s recent New Zealand manager left the company and there is some speculation that Palm does not see this country as a key market for its products.Devices will always be dependent on the networks they run on. The fact that there are now two providers, as well as a number of mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs), offering 3G services has assisted with the popularity of smartphones. These devices invariably have solid web access and good data speeds, which has allowed the proliferation of web-based services such as email and data.Telecom’s XT network has theoretical top download speeds of 7.2Mbps, which is a vast improvement on its legacy CDMA mobile network, while Vodafone offers similar theoretical top download speeds. Both carriers plan to introduce HSPA in the near future, which should increase data speeds as well as assist with penetration and interest in mobile data.Vodafone’s head of mobile data, Hamish Sansom, says the market of devices that were typically used by middle management, has “almost been abandoned” over the last year or so. This may change when BlackBerry releases the Curve 8250, which is a 2G-only device and which is specifically aimed at the mid-range market. “We expect to sell large volumes of that,” he says.Telecom’s mobile platform does not support GSM 2G technology, so it won’t be able to offer the new mid-range BlackBerry.Telecom’s MVNO partner Digital Island’s general manager Blair Stewart says the BlackBerry is a proven performer.“Many customers are already familiar with its simple and easy-to-use interface, combined with [its] proven reliability [which] make it a zero-risk choice. For the IT department nothing comes close to the functionality and control delivered through the BES/BPS [server] backend.”Aside from the iPhone, the Samsung S532 and HTC Pro2, as well as LG devices, are selling reasonably well in the business market, but the real challenger to BlackBerry is Nokia, according to Gen-i’s national mobile manager enterprise, Joe Caccioppoli.With pricing around the $580 mark for the Nokia E71, compared to a BlackBerry Bold 9000, priced at around $880, the Nokia E-series range is competitive. These are only basic retail prices; many companies buy devices in bulk or bundle devices into a business-grade package.Both Gen-i’s Caccioppoli and Vodafone’s Sansom agree that Nokia’s offer of a Microsoft operating system makes its devices a solid choice for those operating in a Microsoft-based PC environment.Caccioppoli says business people want to mobilise their existing PC applications. The fact that the vast majority of enterprise customers operate in a Microsoft environment has assisted with devices running Windows Mobile. This makes it a popular choice for CIOs and CTOs, whose staff make bulk buying decisions for their companies.Improving data speeds in New Zealand mean that web browsing is becoming more popular. Access to financial information and company-related web sites is increasing.Business people are generally big domestic and international travellers. This means that applications such as Google Maps and WorldMate Live, which assist users with travel schedules, personalised weather forecasts, maps and directions, are growing more popular.The growth of location-based services is also presenting a number of opportunities for application developers as well as applications such as mobile conferencing, which allows users to bridge through to fixed or mobile conferencing tools.In addition, simple yet highly useful stock control and customer management applications are highly sought after by business mobile users. But it is still the case that the top service used by mobile business users is email and office-type applications.Digital Island’s Stewart says that 90% of company managers are just looking for a convenient and reliable device for email, calendar and contacts.“Others are starting to see the benefits of applications to deliver information and time saving, such as NZ Herald newsfeeds and Air New Zealand mPass. Beyond that, you tend to get into mobile clients for applications specific to an industry or organisation,” he says.“However I’d say the biggest use of apps is still those for outside of work such as Facebook, Twitter and snow/weather reports.”It isn’t all about function – style matters too for the mobile business user. Portraying a professional appearance is important no matter what line of business you’re in. That’s why Stewart says the most important device requirements are that it’s easy to carry and it looks good.