We Need More From Mobile Computing

Mobile computing is underachieving. This is especially true for North American companies wrestling with incompatible, and often unavailable, packet-based digital radio networks.

Mobile computing is underachieving. this is especially true for North American companies wrestling with incompatible, and often unavailable, packet-based digital radio networks.

Sure, mobile e-mail and contact management are useful, but the gee whiz days for those technologies are long gone. Much more is needed. Does your mobile infrastructure help employees know when critical business data changes? Can workers access essential policy or regulatory documents? Can staff interact with line-of-business management and billing applications?

First, we need connectivity—not the kind of connectivity that comes 6 feet away in a docking cradle or that requires getting a PDA, a cell phone, cell towers and the moon into harmonic resonance.

We need continuously connected, high-bandwidth, secure digital networks that let the device know when we have new things to see instead of having us dial up or plug in to check what is new. Bluetooth is on our requirements list as well, to get rid of cabling and allow more seamless desktop connectivity.

Higher-speed, always-on GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) will help, and here is some good news: VoiceStream Wireless and Cingular Wireless are deploying GPRS in the United States.

Second, IT needs to buy mobile gear with the future in mind. Devices need to be more than just good address books and lousy Web browsers; they also need to be complete application deployment platforms so organizations can use them for mission-critical tasks. The future belongs to Java 2 Micro Edition, Pocket PC OS and Linux-based handhelds, all technologies that let corporate IT leverage developer skills and mobile hardware to create compelling business platforms.

Palm and BlackBerry PDAs, along with cell phones, are all big disappointments in this area. Proprietary APIs, fragile operating systems, bad development tools and underwhelming hardware conspire to make these largely single-function devices. We need convergence. Theres only so much room around peoples waists, and in these belt-tightening days, the single-function strategy isnt good enough anymore.

Again, theres hope: Both the upcoming Handspring Treo—the first really innovative Palm OS device weve seen since the Palm VII—and the Compaq iPaq with Compaqs Wireless Pack for GSM/GPRS Networks combine the functions of a PDA, phone, BlackBerry device and pager to possibly great effect.

IT needs to get the same mileage out of mobile gear that it gets from anything else on which it spends budget dollars. Keep the focus on infrastructure, on connectivity and on data, and dont buy into any mobile strategies that dont share these goals.

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