One of the most satisfying perks of my job as a mobile technology consultant is how people seem to value my opinion when it comes to choosing a smartphone, netbook or mobile application. I do my homework, compare the devices as objectively as one possibly can, and after all that, my answer more often than not is, "it depends upon how you intend to use it most."
Some advisor, huh?
The truth is, there are so many choices to make between smartphone platforms, manufacturers, models and wireless providers, that it can be a confusing proposition, especially if you are relying on your choice to help you in business, first know that there is only a slight difference between devices in terms of the features and capabilities they offer. How they deliver these services will oftentimes be the deciding factor in which device will work best for you. The other main deciding factor will be the apps.
Next time you see a commercial for a smartphone, look closely at what they are presenting to you. They aren't touting the screen brightness or the speed of the processor; they are selling you on the software applications, or apps. The buzzword for iPhone for example is the over 100 thousand apps, and the list is growing. Never mind that to me, over half of them offer no value to a mobile professional, but the sheer number is worth Apple's advertising focus on them. Google Android boasts 10 thousand apps, while the Palm WebOS devices, Pre and Pixi are still growing their list, currently around a thousand.
Should this mean anything to you, mobile professional? Not really. if the apps that make you more productive are available on the iPhone as well as the Pre, then how many apps they offer becomes irrelevant. If your device makes it easy for you to access, to navigate, and to utilize the application, then you have the right one for you. All smartphones share a core suite of applications:
- Text messaging
- Multimedia (photos, video, camera, music, e-reader)
Beyond these, there are conveniences such as calculators and the like, but the variety of other applications depend on what has been developed and offered by the manufacturer. Applications are typically downloaded directly to the phones from the application stores of the manufacturer. Apple has the App Store, Google has the Google Market, while Palm sells through their App Catalog. According to a number of Web sources, the average smartphone user purchases 7 applications per year, with an average cost of $5. Many apps downloaded are free or ad sponsored.
What types of apps do mobile professionals find useful? Here is a sampling:
- Document management software
- GPS navigation applications
- Real estate calculators
- Sales management tools
- Database management tools
Apple iPhone seems to be leading the list of most innovative apps so far. With an iPhone, you can snap a photo of a business card which will update to your contacts list, share contact information with another iPhone with a "bump" of the devices, and even identify a song title by allowing your iPhone to hear it while it plays. While these are novelties exclusive to the iPhone, I would imagine them being available on most top smartphones in the near future.
Also available are many "cloud" applications that are accessed on the Web rather than stored on the smartphone, like social networking applications. This to me is the primary reason why the applications are more important to the user than the device. If your smartphone delivers a rich Web browsing experience, then the apps, which eventually will be almost exclusively on the cloud, will provide the data and convenience we want most.
If you are looking to buy the right smartphone for your business, I have some points to consider:
1. Consider for what you will use your device most. Will it be phone calling, or email, or surfing the web? Perhaps maintaining your calendar and contacts will be high on the priority list. Think of the top three, and base your decision on:
- Battery life (talk time, standby time, even battery size matters)
- Screen size and resolution (could affect battery life)
- Form factor (overall size and shape of the device-is it easy to hold and use?)
- Input technology (on-screen keyboard vs. buttons, or the now old-school stylus)
- Applications (not the overall quantity of available apps, but having apps useful to your needs)
2. The cost of buying a device these days is hardly a factor in the decision anymore. If you purchase without a contract, the carriers will penalize you with a ridiculous purchase price. What they want is the activation and the two-year service commitment. With that marriage, the price becomes negligible, sometimes even offering a free device (or two) with purchase. Your major concern here should be the TCO, or total cost of ownership, which includes the cost of service. This is where your technology budget takes the biggest hit, so make sure you know the bottom line before making your decision final.
Add to this cost the purchase of applications (the national average ranges from $7-$50 per year), and you can see that the smartphone is a major investment in the cost of doing business.
3. Keep in mind that the device generating the most buzz may not be the best device for you. While it may be very appealing, and it seems everyone has one, it's liabilities may outweigh the benefits for you. Choose the device that offers ease of use, lots of functionality and offers wireless plans that won't compromise your budget.
Smartphones have greatly changed the way mobile professionals manage their business day. While the wide variety of devices on the shelves become more alike than they are different, the applications play a larger role in what they deliver, and which ones will ultimately be the best for us to use.