Gray Matters

SMARTPHONES, THOSE SLEEK wireless devices with computer-like operating systems and QWERTY keyboards, could be the next great opportunity in the business market. That has sparked a flurry of competitive moves for market share on the part of industry participants, and a lot of fragmentation in the options available. For dealers tapping the business market, it pays to know the nuances.

Smartphone unit sales almost tripled from 2004 to 2005, and increased by 50 percent in the first half of 2006 over 2005, reports In-Stat. A big winner in sales last year was Motorola Inc.s MotoQ, which is expected to meet a goal of pushing out 10 million units in the 12 months since its launch in May 2006. The Samsung BlackJack, T-Mobile USA Inc.s Dash and Research in Motion Ltd.s BlackBerry Pearl also made high-profile launches in 2006, and every top carrier has a stable of two or three smartphones planned for its device lineup this year. The growing acceptance of smartphones offers new competition to the data-centric mobile e-mail/calendaring products such as the older BlackBerry models and Palm Inc.s Treo portfolio.

So what exactly is a smartphone? The lines are beginning to blur between PDAs, Pocket PCs and smartphones, but generally speaking, its a device that is optimized for both voice and data, meaning it has a traditional phone-like look, feel and capability, a full keyboard and the ability to process applications just like your PC back in the office. Smartphones are not to be confused with feature phones, which are simply phones with bells and whistles like color screens, Internet access and video support, and possibly the capability to support some limited data functions.

We are starting to see the mainstreaming of the smartphone, says Shawn Freeman, senior vice president of IT at Handango Inc., which offers downloadable software for smartphones online. Its because of the price points, which have gone from a subsidized average of $300 to $400, to $199 and even $99, in the space of a year.

Lower prices will remove barriers to adoption, of course, giving more and more users access to what Freeman calls an an applications universe.

Navigating that universe is a world of opportunity for dealers. Smartphones actually have an OS, and can be loaded up with thirdparty applications like any PC. Some have as much processing power as a laptop. Any smartphone has a defined operating system, says Bill Hughes, an analyst at In-Stat. It is an applications platform to which developers can write, and VARs can sell on the basis of that into a vertical market with a customized offer.

Thus, smartphone operating systems have ecosystems of developers associated with them, devoted to creating productivity-enhancing options for businesses of any stripe, from inventory applications to CRM to order management. Hughes notes that e-mail remains the No. 1 program, but interest is growing in other areas. Freeman offers the examples of travel helpers like currency calculators and flight schedule lookup software, casual gaming and GPS-enabled applications. These, he says, are the most popular searches and downloads at the Handango site.

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Source: In-Stat, December 2006

Hosted applications are on the rise, too. 4SmartPhone offers a hosted mobile office solution featuring over-the-air synchronized e-mail, contacts and calendaring on Windows Mobile-powered devices running on any network, for $3.99 to $9.99 per month. The company just signed a bundling deal with EMBARQ to include the app on the carriers UT Starcom 6700 smartphone.

Keeping on top of the applications available will allow a dealer to craft a customized solution for the business user, but selling smartphones also requires following trends in the OS space. Thats because applications often dont translate from one platform to another. About half of businesses require their employees to buy their own devices, according to In-Stat, making for a lack of handset consistency within user groups. That could make for challenges in deploying enterprise-wide applications. Theres enough confusion among platforms and how to customize apps for devices, so that creates challenges in knowing what will and will not work, says Freeman. We are investing a lot of R&D to try and simplify that problem, and dealers can go a long way to help businesses in the meantime.

As more devices enter the market, the battle for OS dominance has begun in earnest. The established smartphone operating systems are Palm, BlackBerry and Symbian, with Windows Mobile coming on strong, thanks in part to its native ability to synch with Microsoft Exchange. Linux is another OS option, although it only supports Java applications, making for a limited palette for developers. Meanwhile, Palm has moved to embrace Windows Mobile, sparking rumors it will phase out the Palm OS. For now, it is supporting both. Windows Mobile gained more in 2006 than anyone, says Hughes. Theyve been trying to crack the mobile space for 10 years, but they finally hit on all cylinders this year. U.S.-based smartphone customers are about evenly split among Windows Mobile, BlackBerry and Palm, he says.

Educating oneself on the market can pay off in ways beyond the applications. Partners can wrap value-added offers into the device-app bundle, like device security and accessories. For instance, Icuiti Corp. makes video display solutions for smartphones and other devices, in the form of glasses that allow users to see a full-sized display in front of their eyes.

Meanwhile, combining smartphones with technologies like Bluetooth and UWB (or wireless USB as it is sometimes known) will create completely untethered office spaces, driving new professional services needs and a potential networking sale for the wireless dealer.

Alereon Inc.
Handango Inc.
Icuiti Corp.
Microsoft Corp.
Motorola Inc.
Palm Inc.
T-Mobile USA LLC
UT Starcom

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