The Business Utility of Handheld Devices - Page 3

By Lynn Haber | Posted Jan 10, 2001
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Gartner estimates that by the end of 2002, CE will own a 30% market share, with Palm garnering 50%, Symbian owning 15%, and a variety of other operating systems making up the remaining share 5% of the mobile operating systems market. Dulaney doesn't believe that Linux will make big inroads in the handheld market, primarily because it lacks a single vendor to promote it.

That said, Linux is getting interest as a development platform for mobile devices. According to Evans Data Corp., a Santa Cruz market researcher, a recent poll of 300 Linux developers indicated that 20% of them are building applications on mobile devices, representing a 50% increase in mobile Linux application development over a six-month period.

A couple of months ago, Olivetti SpA subsidiary, Royal, Bridgewater, N.J., said it expects to be the first vendor on the market with a Linux-powered PDA. The vendor plans to introduce two daVinci model devices in Q1 2001. Others vendors are expected to follow.

Although some vendors are clearly in the race to shape handheld computers as a business tool, others are still getting their houses in order. For example, both Hewlett-Packard and Handspring, the Mountain View, Calif.-based manufacturer of the Visor, are still in the process of putting the pieces together to attract enterprise customers.

An HP spokesperson says that the current focus for the Jornada is currently in retail, but the company has enterprise application in the works. Handspring is reportedly putting together a sales force and strategy for the enterprise market. Dell Computer Corp., on the other hand, has publicly announced that it is waiting for the handheld market to stabilize before taking the plunge.

Management Comes Together

A year ago, managing handheld devices was a big problem for companies using them. A lot has changed in a year. Today, a number of vendors offer mobile management, which helps enterprises reduce the total cost of ownership.

Big network and system management vendors like Computer Associates International, Islandia, N.Y. and Tivoli, this year, stepped up to the plate to offer management options for handheld devices. Tivoli, for example, offers Tivoli for the Palm Computing Platform. CAI offers the UniCenter TNG Software Delivery Option 3.0, which includes support for Palm OS and Windows CE devices. CAI's latest version of the UniCenter TNG Asset Management Option V3.10 also tracks Palm OS and CE devices when plugged into the network.

In the 1980s, enterprises deployed laptops en masse, then asked how were they going to manage them. Companies don't want to go down that road again, says Joe Pascal, director of marketing at CAI. At the end of November 2000, the vendor also delivered a version of its InoculatIT antivirus and Trojan-detection product for the Palm OS.

In late October 2000, McAffee.com Corp., the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based subsidiary of Network Associates Inc., announced a beta release of its first antivirus scanner resident on the Palm OS.

Mobile management system vendor Xcellenet, Atlanta, Ge., delivered its commercially available Afaria product, with support for handheld devices, this year. Alpharetta, Ge.-based Synchrologic Inc., offers its iMobile Suite for Palm OS and Pocket PC devices.

Work to Be Done

Despite the swelling interest by businesses in handheld devices, a number of holes in the platform's robustness as an enterprise device need to be plugged before a more broad-based adoption takes off. Major areas of concern include security, backups, and recovery.

When it comes to the security issue of information assets, Analysts International sets a clear policy for its users. There are corporate information assets on our users devices and they're confidential in nature. We hold our users responsible for those assets, says Bocci.

At Verizon Communications, Irving, Texas, a telecommunications company, where 2,500 Symbol 1700 ruggedized handheld computers have been distributed to the company's field technicians, Todd Williams, network services specialist systems support, says that users are responsible for their units. The handhelds are handed out as a business tool, the user signs them out and if they're missing, the user is responsible, he says.

Verizon is in the midst of a five-year rollout plan, which got underway in calendar year 2000, to replace 6,000 older barcode units with the Symbol device. The company's technicians use the Palm OS-based devices to track the assets of the equipment they're installing out in the field. Users also have access to standard PIM applications, such as notepad, calendaring, and scheduling.

Industry watchers note some additional issues that the handheld market needs to address. Enterprise market growth is also hindered by a lack of platform stability, says Dulaney, noting that what's hot today may not be hot tomorrow.

IBM's Marley adds that wireless is still an issue because network speed isn't there yet. Users can get 10Kbps over a Mobitex or CDPD network, and if they want to do Web browsing over a wireless connection they can at 1000Kbps, he says. Those speeds are a far cry from today's wired network speeds.

Product wrinkles aside, it appears that companies have no alternative but to look at the value of palm and handheld devices, as employees opt to use them whether or not they're sanctioned by the company. Everybody loves a laptop until you have to cart it around, says Bocci, noting that the handhelds are truly portable--and there's no powering up. //

Lynn Haber writes on business and information technology from Norwell, Ma.

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