Once you go mobile, you won’t go back. We uncover the hardware, the plans and the services that’ll unshackle you from the office.Business mobility is about getting the right information to the right people instantly, wherever they may be. For the mobile sales force, it’s about checking live stock levels and ordering information when on the road. For executives, it’s about being able to communicate with the staff and with business partners via email, voice or video while sitting in an airport lounge. The purpose of business mobility is to deliver increased productivity, faster decision making and better customer service. It’s not always successful, of course, and many people are (often rightly) concerned about the social effects of being always ‘plugged in’, but a well-managed implementation of business mobility technology can keep both the accountants and the staff happy.
Handhelds and smart phones
Over the past three years, smart phones and handhelds have become jacks-of-all-trades, some even approaching low-end notebooks in their capabilities. Smart phones and PDAs have converged into devices capable of sending email, browsing the Internet, connecting to corporate databases and VPNs (see below) and even running limited productivity applications. For many mobile users, a good handheld or smart phone is all they need.
The industry has now crystallised around a limited number of operating systems – Palm OS and Windows CE/Mobile for handhelds, Symbian OS for smart phones. As a result, there is a healthy raft of applications available for the major platforms.
There are many things to look for in a handheld, some of which are entirely a matter of personal preference. Full keyboards are the order of the day on many new devices (especially following the success of the BlackBerry), and support for email and calendar forwarding services has become very popular on a range of devices. These services let you read and respond to all your emails from wherever you are. Large screens are always good, especially for viewing Web pages, and it’s surprising how useful an integrated camera and voice recorder can be in a business context.
Of course, the most important features of the handheld involve messaging and communications. With the national rollout of 3G, it’s worthwhile investing in a handheld or smart phone that supports it – 3G is streaks ahead of the older GPRS technology when it comes to data and Internet access. Bluetooth connectivity has become almost essential for communication with other devices (including notebooks) and wireless LAN capabilities can be very useful for when you return to the office. Instant messaging is a great tool for mobile users and of course the handheld or smart phone should support decent telephone and SMS messaging.
Security services like VPN connectivity and data encryption remains largely the preserve of third-party software developers. Business users serious about protecting their data should look at investing in such services.
An ultraportable notebook is designed to strike a balance between the portability of the handheld and capability of the notebook. Generally weighing less than 2kg, ultraportables run a PC operating system like Windows XP, but tend to have smaller screens, slower processors and fewer features than full-size notebooks. Toshiba’s Portege range, Dell’s XPS, Lenovo’s ThinkPad X Series and HP’s Ultra Light range are example of ultraportables.
Buyers of ultraportables should look at more than just the obvious specifications: weight, screen size, performance and battery life. A good business grade ultraportable shouldn’t sacrifice security features. A key specification to look for is the presence of a trusted platform module (TPM), which makes possible a range of business security features – most notably drive encryption.
Good connectivity is also vital. Bluetooth makes connecting to peripherals and other devices like handhelds and mobile phones much easier. Wireless LAN capabilities are absolutely essential, both for in-office connectivity and for connecting to wireless hotspots when on the road. A flash memory reader can be very handy for transferring large amounts of data, and a docking bay makes moving in and out of the office without changing PCs or fiddling with cables much easier.