The mobile device market has always been a vibrant place, but up to now has been the playground of a number of very successful specialists. Successively, the market has been dominated by the likes of Nokia, Motorola, RIM and Palm. These hardware specialists had their day and sank back, some disappearing altogether from the market.
With the advent of smartphones and touchscreen tablet devices, the mobile arena is now dominated by Samsung and Apple. These are two vendors with a wider scope than just mobile devices, but they are still niche players, especially in the corporate computing sector.
At the same time, user interfaces and operating systems have shifted from proprietary systems to standard offerings from the likes of Apple, Microsoft and Google.
The next wave in the development of mobile devices and software, from a corporate perspective at least, is going to involve the big enterprise players in the wider computing pantheon.
As organisations react to the proliferation of consumer devices in work use and seek to extend the reach of their computing systems out to the most remote workers in the field, enterprise software vendors will be driven to adapt their systems so that they can be accessed from small-format computing devices on the move, outside the corporate infrastructure.
In an effort to regain some homogeneity in the hardware estate and provide staff with versatile, portable access devices, hardware manufacturers are looking at designing suites of user hardware, from tower, to laptop, to tablet to smartphone which interoperate and sync with no effort on the part of the user.
The proliferation of devices is as wide as it ever was. Apple has just released the latest version of its iPhone handset, following a high-profile patent battle with rival Samsung. The court found in favour of Apple, causing some ripples in the latter’s strategy for releasing future products. More is at stake though with some of the fundamental operations of the phone, which customers have come to see as standard ways of operating smartphones, at the heart of the dispute.
It’s a clear indication of how fierce competition has got in the mobile handset market, with vendors so keen to protect whatever aspects of their products make them stand out in a very busy market.
It could also be a sign that the bigger players with the budgets for big legal teams will do anything they can to keep the upper hand.
The release of the iPhone 5 is marked by an elongated screen and the capability for faster mobile broadband connectivity. This is a reaction to consumer demands, but these enhancements are also useful for business users, who need a good strong connection to connect to big corporate databases and bigger screens to adequately view those Business Intelligence dashboards.
Is this really necessary? If SAP’s roadmap is anything to go by, definitely so. The enterprise software giant has seen the writing on the wall and has made mobile access to its customers’ ERP systems one of the four pillars of its business strategy for the near future.
The proliferation of mobile devices in the workplace has been driven from the top down, with company directors insisting their iPads be integrated with corporate systems so that they can access company data. The logical extension of this is connectivity to core corporate systems so that they can pull down management information in real-time and use it to make snap business decisions.
SAP is reacting to this need and other big corporate computing software vendors will doubtless follow suit.
The changes to the newest iPhone illustrate how the optimum mobile device has not yet been developed, as mobile phones evolve into smart computing devices, and clamshell laptops morph into touch-sensitive tablets.
The fanfare for the iPhone5 is short-lived, as the latest Samsung Galaxy smartphone is due for release by February next year and so the procession of new smartphones on the market goes on.
We currently have a spectrum of devices to choose from. The range covers lightweight laptops with keyboards, to 7-inch and 10-inch screen tablets, to notebook-size e-reader-type devices and phones and down to 3.5-inch screen smartphones. The largest are too bulky for carrying about your person and the smallest are unsuitable for some corporate applications.
Hardware makers are reacting to this melting-pot in a number of ways. Some devices can dock into desktop ports to become more suitable for labour intensive uses, such as computer aided design and content creation.
The proliferation of devices has also lead vendors with big market shares in existing desktop and infrastructure hardware markets to explore new revenue streams in the mobile arena.
Intel has long been a dominant force in corporate computer processing, but has recently ventured further into the mobile space. It has provided the computing power for a new generation of Ultrabooks. These are super-powerful laptops, initially targeted at consumers, but will eventually be seen in the workplace, where employees can make use of fast application processing and boot-up times.
Intel has also established beach-heads in the mobile handset arena, with a partnership in the UK with Everything Everywhere (a joint venture between Orange and T-Mobile) to produce a mobile handset for the carrier’s customers.
More recently, the chip-maker showcased a device at its developers’ conference that can be used as a desktop PC but doubles as a 27-inch tablet device. Called the Adaptive All-in-One, the device has a 1080p HD display and a high-performance graphics processor.
Intel’s approach demonstrates how end users are no longer willing to make distinctions between the capabilities of the computing they use on the move or at a desk, nor are they prepared to put up with any loss of access to the data and communications they need just because they are mobile.
Niche players in the market will continue to delight them with innovative designs for devices and applications, but established providers that power the systems that support these devices and applications are steadily moving into the frame as well.