Smartphones are rather like desktop PCs were 25 years ago. There are lots of competing devices with different OSes - it's exciting or a nightmare depending on your point of view. Gartner's managed diversity strategy provides a useful framework to think about support.
If I'm an individual or an enterprise, how do I choose which platform to adopt? My preference is for the iPhone - it's what I've chosen for personal use, and I think it has business benefits too. Each of the platforms however have different strengths and weaknesses. Several people have recently asked me for advice, so hopefully this summary on the blog will be of use to more.
Blackberry: the standard for corporate messaging. We'd have to invest significantly to add Blackberry Enterprise Server to our infrastructure if we wanted to deploy Blackberries. The blackberry data contracts are also at expensive at £15/month, difficult to justify at a time when we are trying to cut costs. The infrastructure costs mean we'd either have to deploy Blackberries in a big way or not at all.
Symbian: Symbian is now owned by Nokia, who are almost the only firm left making Symbian phones. Symbian runs efficiently on low-end hardware. It's a general purpose smartphone OS but I think Symbian's developing niche will be at the cheaper end of the smartphone market, for people who want a phone with only occasional extras. The Nokia E63 could be a good, cheap phone for business users wanting phone+email. The keyboard makes it a decent Blackberry clone from the hardware point of view. Unfortunately for us the IMAP mail client is lacking - for example it will only store sent mail on the device, not on the server.
Windows Mobile: lots of devices in different form factors, from a huge range of manufacturers. Very open platform for third-party applications. I think of Windows Mobile as a 'general purpose computer' - it will do anything. This makes it a great choice if you really want a laptop replacement (but in that case how about a netbook instead?). Unfortunately the Windows Mobile interface is pretty horrible to use. The best Windows Mobile devices are from HTC, who have developed an easier touch interface on top of Windows Mobile. If you want a Windows Mobile get something like the HTC Touch Pro.
Apple iPhone: revolutionary when first released, the sleek hardware, large screen and touch interface make the iPhone a cut above other options. It is lightweight, slim, and easy to carry around in your pocket, so won't be left in the desk drawer. The user interface and other design factors are crucial to the appeal - you can't underestimate how important this is to the average, non-techy user. It makes the device something people will actually use and benefit from.
The on screen keyboard is a barrier for some:it takes time to get used to but can be quite fast when you've learnt. The email client is fantastic, and the web browser way better than any other smartphone. There are various enterprise tools you would expect (eg remote wipe) but not all would work in our environment. It can do calendaring with our Oracle Calendar, but through a third-party sync app which isn't ideal. This is an example of a more general failing: Apple have a limited SDK for third-party apps, perhaps as an oversight, or perhaps to retain their iron control on the platform. Unfortunately all this comes at a price: the iPhone corporate data contract (£15/month again) is more expensive than other options. A shame that the smartphone designed for the masses is affordable only to a few?
Google Android (so far just the G1 from T-Mobile): One to watch. In theory Android should give the iPhone a run for its money providing easy to use web-centric devices. So far manufacturers have been slow to release models - I don't expect a large range until 2010. Android platform not mature, missing too many features, especially those that enterprises want. Android is likely to remain consumer-centric for some time.
Palm Pre: interesting but still unproven and not here yet. When released it will still take time to reach maturity and feature parity with other platforms.
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