Samsung, Microsoft tackle smart phone space

Microsoft Canada Inc., Samsung Electronics Canada Inc. and IDC Canada Ltd. gathered in Toronto this week to discuss mobile trends, smart phones and apps in the business space.

A lot of people ask why Microsoft doesn’t make phones, but software and services are the company’s bread and butter, said Greg Milligan, mobility solutions manager at Microsoft Canada. “This is what we see as a real opportunity.” 

People are expecting to be able to do more with their devices and looking for a consistent experience with applications and services as they move from phone to phone, he said. “We see this real shift moving to software and services and we think we are on the right path line,” he said.

Microsoft’s approach is to build a set of protocols that can be embedded in their own technology, or licensed to others so there is one consistent mechanism for accessing everything within the IT organization, he said.

There are two key arguments for why enterprises should deploy mobile devices running Microsoft’s mobile OS, according to Milligan.

First, it allows enterprises to leverage existing investments in areas like infrastructure and development tools, he said. If you’ve already invested in Exchange and SharePoint, putting that onto a mobile device doesn’t cost you anything extra, he said.

Also, if an organization has developers, two out of three will likely be Microsoft developers, he said. “You will find those developers and then easily extend the Microsoft investments you’ve made, whether it’s SQL or SharePoint,” he said.

And it promotes employee productivity and ease of use, he said. “If you already know how to use Outlook, you already know how to use Windows Mobile,” said Milligan.

Smart phones are a new area for Samsung, said Paul Brannen, vice-president of the mobile communications division at Samsung Electronics Canada. “What we need to do as a company is take all of our assets and bring those together in a smart phone,” he said.

The company plans to bring its strengths in consumer electronics, digital camera technology and MP3 technology into the devices, he said. This will provide a better experience for consumers and greater flexibility by marrying with content from carriers, he said.

The initial message is very consumer-centric, but if you look at where a lot of smart phones are being deployed today, it is predominantly the consumer space, he said. “Consumers are going to lead the evolution of technology now, where historically enterprises have led that evolution,” he said.

Samsung plans to talk more about the merging of devices and ability to share content via AllShare, a term the company recently trademarked as a consumer-friendly reference to DLNA technology, which allows devices like smart phones, TVs, notebooks and printers to share content with each other wirelessly.

“I think as the technology continues to evolve and as enterprises see where they can use this to benefit the business side of it, you’ll start to see it proliferate in the enterprise space,” said Brannen.

Samsung will also focus on the convergence of applications into one space via Smart Life, which runs on top of the Google Inc.’s Android mobile OS. Smart Life recognizes the blurring of the lines between personal and professional lives and tries to merge the two together on one device, said Brannen.

“One of the really large trends you’re going to see on our smart phone devices is converged mailboxes,” he said. This will include synchronization between Gmail, Hotmail and Outlook calendars. 

Smart phone devices coming out later this year will also include features like 4-inch screens with Super-AMOLED (active-matrix organic light-emitting diode) technology, said Brannen. In the mobile market, screen technology is one of Samsung¹s particular strengths, he said.

Samsung users can also anticipate greater integration with Microsoft’s new mobile OS, Windows Phone 7. “Our R&D people work very closely with Microsoft R&D, so as the next version of Windows Phone 7 comes into the marketplace, you’ll see a tighter convergence between our two organizations,” said Brennan.

“Anything that brings hardware and software together is always a good thing for development for consumers and for the product guaranteed,” said Adam Smith, CEO of Liquid Reality, a Toronto-based boutique user experience design and development firm.

Samsung is a very good platform in terms of consumer hardware, according to Smith. The processor is powerful and the screens have phenomenal colour representation, he said. “In terms of screen real estate, you have a lot to work with as a developer, which is great,” he said.

“From a hardware perspective, the only thing that I personally dislike is sometimes they go a little fancy on their four-way direct buttons, which make it less easy to use for a new user. From a software perspective, considering they use Microsoft Windows, it’s not exactly the most intuitive smart phone operating system out there,” he said.

Windows Phone 7 should provide “a far more enjoyable experience,” he added.

“From a development standpoint, it’s pretty robust because it is Microsoft and it also uses an industry-standard widget in fast form, which basically allows anyone who knows HTML and JavaScript and CSS to be able to create widget-based applications that sit on a user’s homescreen, so it does afford a lot of opportunity for new mobile developers,” he said.

There is truth to the idea that Windows Mobile is familiar to end users, said Smith. “The average user obviously does use Microsoft in business and moving to Windows Mobile is not difficult in terms of what you know … but it’s not so much that it’s intuitive. It’s that it is trained practice,” he said.

Windows Mobile devices can be difficult for end users because they have to use a stylus or finger, he added. “It is in fact a paradigm that’s very well suited to the mouse, so anything that you may know is kind of tainted when you try to take it on to mobile because you are working such a smaller screen real estate and working with different input devices,” he said.

“From a development perspective, yes, there are definitely cost savings for corporations that create their own applications or extensions to applications for deployment on mobile. On Windows, it is much easer for them to take those applications and write for the Windows Mobile platform,” he said.

But as a developer, everything you know from using a computer or network situation does not necessarily translate well to smaller, less capable handsets, he added. “It actually can cause much more problems if you try to take what you know from the Web world or the desktop world or the corporate network world and try to shove it into a smaller mobile product,” he said.

Samsung is the most widely adopted brand of mobile device in Canada in general, said Tony Olvet, vice-president of research at IDC Canada. “It has the largest install base over any other mobile brand, but that’s consumer and business combined,” he said.

But many organizations jump too quickly to the end-point device, said Olvet.

Businesses need to develop a mobile strategy and think carefully about how they are going to deploy wireless, mobile devices and applications, he said.

First, consider what are the business processes you want to improve or enable by developing and deploying mobile applications and services, he said. A number of considerations follow — the work processes, the type of worker, the applications, the service, the infrastructure and then finally the device, he said.

The mobile workforce is a big trend, said Olvet. “At the end of this year, globally, we expect to be somewhere around one billion mobile workers around the world,” he said.

“You need to be able to understand how to equip the mobile office workers and look at the needs and desires not only from a device perspective, but what is going get make then productive and help them feel engaged in the organization,” he said.

Follow me on Twitter @jenniferkavur. 

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