ORLANDO—IBM Corp.’s goal in 2011 for what it calls “social business”—or collaboration in the business—on the mobile device is for a complete set of applications with comparable functionality across the four major platforms.

Kevin Cavanaugh, vice-president of business and technology with the Armonk, New York-based company, told a group of reporters at its Lotusphere 2011 conference that IBM doesn’t yet have consistency in functionality across the Research In Motion, Apple, Nokia and Android platforms. But, that is the intention this year.

Security is one such capability to which IBM wants to bring consistency. While RIM and Nokia devices are already business-oriented, Cavanaugh sees Android devices as “somewhere in between at this point” but there is flexibility to apply security at the application level.

He added that the mobile device market is changing so rapidly but that IBM has the advantage of a six-week agile development cycle. “We need to move relatively quickly there while the devices are going to keep changing under us,” said Cavanaugh.Day One at Lotusphere 2011

Taking a jab at vendors with less swift development cycles, Cavanaugh said the era of the three-year refresh cycle is close to dead. “If it takes three years to develop and it takes three years to deploy, you mess it up once so nobody deploys one of your releases so it takes seven years to do updates. I don’t get it, it doesn’t work anymore,” he said.

Taking a jab at vendors with less swift development cycles, Cavanaugh said the era of the three-year refresh cycle is close to dead. “If it takes three years to develop and it takes three years to deploy, you mess it up once so nobody deploys one of your releases so it takes seven years to do updates. I don’t get it, it doesn’t work anymore,” he said.

As for end user preferences for device, Cavanaugh said there is demand for all the four platforms in varying use cases, and that IBM must deliver. “You’d like to think you can do as few as possible,” he said. “But I see people wanting choice.”

As an avid device user himself, Cavanaugh said his preference among the devices he owns is dictated by the particular circumstance: tablet for short-term usage, laptop for longer-term. And he expects IBM will have to figure out user behavior as well. “It’s going to be an interesting time in finding the devices, what people’s preferences are,” said Cavanaugh.

RIM’s director of product strategy, David Heit, spoke to ComputerWorld Canada at Lotusphere about its soon-to-launch PlayBook and how the Waterloo-based company best known for its BlackBerry smart phone is planning to position the tablet in the enterprise.

“It’s a lifestyle product,” said Heit, that recognizes the impending extinction of the traditional 9 to 5 office hours, and the continued trend that devices are being used for much more than just e-mail.

RIM sees the PlayBook as an extension for its BlackBerry users, a sizeable community that numbers in the 50+ million. While targeting the tablet to BlackBerry users is a “natural complement,” RIM isn’t restricting itself to the enterprise, said Heit, who prefers not to slot the PlayBook in categories like business or consumer.

As for IBM facing the challenge of figuring out user preferences for device types depending on use case, Heit said RIM recognizes that not everyone has the same set of needs. Laptops likely won’t disappear with the emergence of the tablet, said Heit.

“It’s like predicting the death of cameras when all the smart phones have cameras” because camera technology has continued to evolve on its own while smart phone cameras are merely a “convenience” capability, said Heit.

Heit said it’s more about individual functionality and apps on devices, rather than about whether a single device will cover all a user’s needs.

As for the relationship between Lotus and RIM, Heit said PlayBook has the foundational technology, such as desktop performance on the browser, for future capabilities of collaboration apps especially given Lotus Connections and Lotus Sametime for instance are “basically portal views.”

As for the PlayBook fitting with IT administrators’ security demands, Heit said it’s just “a giant BlackBerry.” That said, PlayBook doesn’t connect directly to the BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES). Instead, it must piggy-back on a RIM smart phone that accesses BES. Heit is not particularly concerned about that, again, citing the rich market of 50+ million BlackBerry users that RIM can already leverage.

recent survey found the upcoming PlayBook did not fare as well as the iPad and Android devices in terms of the platforms upon which mobile apps developers want to build. Heit was quick to dismiss the low ranking, saying “We’ve faced this situation before. We’ve weathered these alleged storms quite well. Thank you very much.”

Lotusphere 2011 continues this week.

Follow Kathleen Lau on Twitter: @KathleenLau


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