Other mobile strategies have been advanced by Microsoft, BlackBerry and Hewlett Packard, with Windows Mobile, the popular and addictive RIM “crackberry” devices that have been so productive and enabling, and Palm OS-based devices that HP acquired in 2010. All five strategies could be successful in their own right if the others did not exist. For clarity, the rest of this article will be written thinking around the Apple methodology because of the success of the iPad tablet and iPhone. With the arrival of iPhone 5 and iPad 2 in 2011, Apple will revise and refine an already successful strategy. A strategy using any of the five approaches available at the time of this writing can be successful if the device and the apps meet your needs. The Android shows more promise and increasing speed of adoption, and the BlackBerry approach shows more focus on business needs.
Generically, solving for the business problems of email, web access, document access and note taking can be accomplished by all five strategies named above. The simplicity and elegance of approach is a debatable point, which many have expressed in passionate arguments. Solving business problems efficiently can be done in all approaches. Running a few apps and integrating to well-known systems like Microsoft Exchange or Gmail for email can be solved, sometimes elegantly, on all platforms. You will have more flexibility because of the quantity of apps on the Apple platform, and you will have more lock-in because of iTunes, the app store and Apple’s current restriction of the product.
The greater concern for tablets and smartphones beyond initial price is the ongoing operational cost. Remote access is enabled with cellular or wireless (802.11) built into almost all versions. Devices have purchase prices that are much lower when purchased with ongoing cellular data subscriptions that have entry-level base monthly charges of $15 to $30 per month.
Running over the typical base limit of 1GB to 5GB of data transfer per month can rack up additional charges of $10/GB or more, depending on the plan. Unlimited data plans cost even more or may be unavailable. However, most smartphones and tablets today detect if 802.11wireless is available and automatically default to use 802.11 wireless. 802.11 wireless is faster, and this conserves cellular data for when access via cellular is the only option.
After initial configuration, the benefit of adding a cellular plan to a smartphone or tablet is that the device can be used for Internet access with no additional setup beyond turning the device on. Depending on 802.11 wireless prevents the device from being used during most commutes, on airplanes, in offices or in public places where no wireless Internet access is available. If your primary places of use are the office and home, and you have 802.11 wireless in both places, a cellular plan is completely unnecessary. Alternatively, some carriers like Verizon have made iPad devices available with only 802.11 wireless, supplying a portable cellular wireless access point or MiFi unit. Over time, we expect all cell phones to act as MiFi units. Using a separate or cell phone-based MiFi unit today is acceptable, but not quite as convenient as built-in cellular data access. An additional advantage for the MiFi approach is that the unit can be shared on up to five connections including your personal computer and with other users.
Apps are what really drive these devices, and most apps have to be written specifically for the hardware and operating platform chosen. This means that Windows applications do not run on most of the five options above without the addition of more technology. Vendors have responded to the demand of remote Windows applications on the iPad by updating the popular Citrix and VMware environments with the Citrix Receiver for iPad and VMware TeamViewer.
These software products connect the iPad back to servers running the Windows applications, and permit all Windows applications to run on the iPad. Smaller firms may not have the technology to use these more expensive tools nor the expertise to do the implementation. Alternatively, an app to access a PC or Mac desktop called LogMeIn Ignition allows a tablet computer to run Windows applications hosted on a single computer at the home or in the office. All of these options work today, albeit slowly, and possibly unacceptably for your purposes. However, slow Windows application access may be better than no Windows application access at all.
There’s an app for that!
Native apps enable key functions like note taking, email or web browsing. Other apps can or have to be downloaded to your device through the app marketplace for your platform. For example, on the iPhone or iPad, the Apple App Store has more than 350,000 apps at the time of this writing. The Android Market has approximately 88,000 apps, and the BlackBerry App World has just over 100,000.