research analyst, IDC Canada

Phone and e-mail are still the core apps business users want in converged mobile devices but – as far as the other features go – it’s different strokes for different folks. There’s no one magical device that appeals to all. Every device – the Palm Treo, HP iPaq, and RIM BlackBerry – has its quirks, pros and cons.Eddie Chan>Text

“There’s no one magical device that appeals to all,” says Eddie Chan, a research analyst at Toronto-based IDC Canada. “Every device – the Palm Treo, HP iPaq, and RIM BlackBerry – has its quirks, pros and cons.”

Chan says before opting for a specific device companies need to consider a variety of factors within the context of their business and workflows. Device selection could be based on several criteria such as integration with existing operating and messaging systems, power management, the device’s input method and security.

Multi-media features are still in the nice-to-have category, and may even be a negative in some instances. While there is much consumer clamour for camera-enabled mobile devices, many enterprise customers are actively avoiding this feature, he says.

The BlackBerry is perceived as more secure than other converged devices, largely because of RIM’s decision to avoid putting cameras into its handheld devices, says Chan. This makes the BlackBerry popular in the enterprise space, where security is paramount, he says. “Large enterprises tend to stay away from cameras, particularly in sectors that are highly security-conscious, such as government.”

However in the mid-market space, the camera-equipped Palm Treo has made inroads, says Chan. “The Treo has a ‘prosumer’ feel to it – that is, it appeals to professional consumers,” he says, pointing out that the camera feature is particularly attractive in certain industry sectors such as real estate.

In Canada, the momentum in sales of converged mobile devices overall has been strong, with growth rates of about 200 per cent in 2004 and over 75 per cent in 2005, the IDC analyst says.

These macro trends are reflected in the impressive sales of some converged devices – such as the Palm Treo.

Sales of the Palm Treo have grown about 40 per cent year over year, according to Michael Moskowitz, Mississauga-based president of Americas International at Palm Inc. An estimated 426,000 devices were sold in 2005, and sales are projected to reach 1.2 million by 2008, he says.

“The Palm Treo smartphone functions as a phone first, whereas the BlackBerry is data-centric,” says Moskowitz, explaining the fundamental difference between the two. He said the Treo also offers multi-media features – such as the ability to record video and play mp3 files – that consumers increasingly want in mobile devices but are not available on the RIM BlackBerry. “Smart phones cross consumer and business [lines]. Like cellphones, you can use them at work and at home, you can download videos or mp3s – it’s an everyday part of your life.”

Forty per cent of Fortune 1000 companies use Palm Treo devices, according to a survey commissioned by Palm of 531 U.S. based companies conducted by Frost & Sullivan, a market research consultancy based in London, U.K. The Treo replaced 69 per cent of 12 cell phone brands among companies surveyed, says Moskowitz.

The Frost & Sullivan survey assessed the return on investment (ROI) on the Palm Treo used in a range of businesses and conservatively determined the payback period to be less than two months.

David Fairbanks, CIO at Silicon Graphics Inc. (SGI) based in Mountain View, Calif. agrees that payback period looks reasonable. SGI rolled out 300 Treo devices to its sales force and senior management about two years ago, he says. “For highly mobile people moving between customers and meeting rooms who don’t have time to shut down and boot up their laptops, having the devices to relay decisions is invaluable. It’s really helped mobilize the rest of the organization that used to wait for pent-up decisions.”

SGI’s sales force uses the Palm Treo for contact management and on-site consultations with technical staff. “Now, when they’re interacting with customers, they can consult a system engineer almost as if in chat mode,” he says. The seamless integration of their contact management system with e-mail and desktops was a key benefit.

But the multi-media capabilities of the Palm Treo weren’t a big draw, he says. Rather, it was its flexibility and interoperability with their existing IT environment that won them over. “We [preferred] it over a proprietary solution like RIM as it allowed us to take a heterogeneous e-mail structure and push that to wireless devices, whether users were Unix or Microsoft people.”

Looking forward, Fairbanks is evaluating and comparing the media integration features of the Windows mobile platform and the next-generation Palm Treo 700 for Windows. “We’re keeping our eye on that, but we see multi-media as icing on the cake, which tastes pretty good as it is.”

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