Wait and see what’s next before moving on mobile ERP

Manufacturers might want to put the brakes on mobile mania until they get a good look at the new tablets and smartphones that are expected in the months ahead.

If you’re already feeling hype fatigue from all the news about ultra-portable tablet computers and smartphones, brace yourself. The din will only get louder in the coming months as a horde of vendors introduce dozens of new hardware and software choices for mobile computing devices.

What should businesses do to stay on top of the latest mobile computing trends and keep from being left behind? For now, nothing.

Rather than getting caught up in mobile mania, businesses may want to wait until the full landscape of hardware, operating systems and business applications becomes clear. “What’s occurring now will set the pace for years to come, so don’t rush into anything, certainly not in the first quarter,” said consultant Alan Reiter, president of Wireless Internet & Mobile Computing in Chevy Chase, Md. “Wait until the reviews are in and you or your company has had a chance to look at all these products.”

If one of the new mobile computing devices looks like it might make operations more efficient or improve customer service, do a pilot test before writing a check, Reiter added.

Understanding trends in mobile computing

Just how dynamic will the mobile market be this year? Here are some likely trends:

  • Choices will expand. As tablet computer vendors jockey for market share, they’ll introduce new sizes and features to distinguish themselves from competitors. Many are expected to adopt 7-inch screens -- three inches smaller than the current most popular design -- hoping that lighter weight and increased portability will win over buyers. One vendor of smartphones widely used in business environments is showing an early example of a 7-inch tablet that tethers to a companion smartphone for emails and contact lists. The rationale: limiting the number of devices that carry sensitive information improves security.
  • Smartphones will get even smarter. Smartphones began outselling PCs a few years ago, and last year sales hit almost 270 million units worldwide, according to IDC, a market-research firm in Framingham, Mass. To help fuel what IDC forecasts could be a 25% jump this year, smartphones will come with faster processors, including some with high-performance, dual-core chips. The added power could make running mobile versions of business applications more efficient.
  • Mobile operating systems will multiply. One the country’s largest PC makers is expected to ship tablets and smartphones with an operating system it obtained in a recent corporate acquisition. Some people in the technical community say the OS offers features that surpass the two most popular mobile OSes now on the market. Competitors say they plan to release a handful of new or updated OSes in the months ahead.
  • Apps could become competitive differentiators. Vendors will seek competitive advantages by further encouraging independent programmers to write applications, including business programs, for their smartphones and tablets. But not all mobile software will be downloaded from vendor-backed apps stores. A growing number of businesses expect to offer their staffs mobile versions of key enterprise applications. For example, 57% of companies plan to roll out mobile ERP, customer relationship management (CRM) and proprietary applications for their devices, according to a survey last year by a maker of computer security software.
  • Video won’t be just for talking heads. Newer tablets will come with one and in some cases two video cameras. This will enable video conferencing that could help businesses promote collaboration. New uses could spring from there. “If there’s a problem at a manufacturing site, you use your tablet to show a live video stream of what’s occurring,” Reiter said.
  • Categories will blur. Last year, one hardware maker introduced a tablet-smartphone hybrid with a 5-inch screen that runs tablet applications and makes cellular calls. Another vendor plans to release a smartphone and docking chassis equipped with a full-sized PC keyboard and monitor.

Mobile computing ROI matters

While they’re waiting to see what this year’s introductions will reveal, manufacturers should ponder some larger questions about mobile computing.

Deploying large numbers of mobile devices without deciding how they fit into an overall IT strategy risks incurring new costs and maintenance headaches without a clear ROI. Security is another big concern, especially since ubiquitous firewalls designed to protect network perimeters won’t completely guard organizations when more staff members start connecting to internal networks from outside.

All of which shows that now may be a better time to hone a mobile-computing business case than splurge on the latest and greatest products.

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