Mobile e-mail may push beyond executive corridor

Mobile e-mail isn’t just for the chief executive and president anymore. At least, that’s what many of the companies presenting at Symbian Ltd.’s Smartphone Show said on Monday. Companies including Visto Inc., Nokia Corp. and Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications AB are all talking about their “push” e-mail applications that aim to be attractive throughout the enterprise as well as to smaller businesses.

“We think there is going to be explosive growth of e-mail on Symbian,” said Simon Garth, vice president of marketing for Symbian.

While there’s been a small group of “noisy users” of push e-mail products like the Blackberry, from Research In Motion Ltd., overall user numbers are relatively small, said Tony Cripps, a wireless software analyst at Ovum Ltd.

But the Blackberry has raised awareness of the benefits of mobile e-mail and now mobile workers lower on the corporate ladder and in small businesses are increasingly looking for access, he said. “The great unwashed masses are keen to get it if they can,” Cripps said.

Visto is one push e-mail provider that thinks it can address those potential users, mainly because its offering can be used with a wide variety of devices. “A range of device choices will help get this to the mass market,” said Sanjay Kamble, vice president of marketing for Visto. “We’re taking this out of a device-centric mode to a service-centric.”

He wasn’t alone among speakers at the show who delivered thinly veiled jabs at the Blackberry. Some of Blackberry’s competitors criticize the very popular offering because the e-mail software is largely tied to a specific device. “Users should be able to get e-mail on the phone you want. They shouldn’t have to buy a compromised phone because they want e-mail,” Garth said.

Even Rogers Wireless, the Canadian mobile operator and one of the first to offer the Blackberry to customers, believes that device choice will help drive mobile e-mail into a wider market.

There are customers that want to do e-mail but they don’t want that service to dictate the type of device they can buy, said Robert Munro, a senior director at Rogers Wireless. Rogers has been offering e-mail to users via the Visto platform, allowing users to choose from a variety of devices.

Rather than develop its own e-mail client, Symbian relies on partners that develop e-mail applications that operate on the OS. That strategy offers a choice of e-mail products that meet a variety of end user needs, Garth said. By contrast, smart phone OS maker Microsoft Corp. has included a push e-mail client in Windows Mobile 5.0 and the Blackberry has push e-mail as its core offering.

Historically, mobile e-mail solutions were Web-based or used complicated short messaging mechanisms to deliver e-mail messages to devices. The more recent push e-mail solutions deliver e-mail to mobile devices automatically when new messages arrive at the e-mail server.

Nokia recently introduced a push e-mail platform and Sony Ericsson recently released an upgrade to its push e-mail platform.

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