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The new age of the mobile

Advanced new mobile devices and applications are giving business people on the go a far greater degree of productivity. Kevin Kevany has been checking out some of the more exciting developments.
Almost daily now the news media scream headlines about mobile devices: “Sales of iPhone 4 top 1.7 million in 3 days”; “Google’s Android overtakes Microsoft in mobile software challenge”; “BlackBerry fights back: wants a bite out of Apple”; “Three million iPads sold in 80 days”; “iPad queues in Japan nearly 1km long”; “After just two years Android phones outsell iPhone in North America”. To name just a few.
Celebrity actor, comedian and avid tweeter, Stephen Fry claims to be emotionally attached to his new iPad: “It’s about fellowship and companionship: a bit like having a dog I suppose. It also has the ability to bring happiness.”
Seemingly in support of that notion of attachment (plus image), Adele Beachley, MD, Research In Motion Australasia says the move for employees to bring their personal smartphones to work is nudging into top gear.
“Employers, keen to secure the Gen Y ‘transitioners’ are starting to allow employees to bring their device of choice into the workforce. Employees are thrilled to be able to exercise some individuality and have just one phone.
“Research from IDC shows this trend is gathering momentum, with expectations worldwide shipments of individual-liable, business-use devices will grow by 17.9 percent to reach 56.7 million units by 2013.
“One of the biggest challenges CIOs and IT managers face is how to ensure the devices are secure and that sensitive company information is safe at all times,” Beachley adds.
Research In Motion’s recent launch of BlackBerry Enterprise Server Express claims to provide businesses with a secure way to manage such fleets, by wirelessly synchronising smartphones with a Microsoft Exchange or Microsoft Windows Small Business Server, allowing users secure access to work email, files, applications and more.
It’s hard to believe that it wasn’t that long ago we needed a “brick” to make a mobile call that dropped out at least twice and the call cost more than your lunch. It was widely predicted by those ‘in-the-know’ then that all convergence in media would lead to the television screen in the family-room. How wrong they were.
In nano-time the mobile mantel has gone from Motorola to Nokia and Blackberry and now rests, for the nano-moment with Apple. But Google lurks and Blackberry claims to be fighting back.
Jonathan Eele, who did his time at Cable & Wireless in the UK and selected mobile phones for Telecom for a number of years, now heads up Black + White – “the little big telco”.
“We are at the stage in mobile technology now which is the equivalent of the leap from MS-DOS to Windows – this is the real beginning of the total transformation. After all, anyone who is offered a comparable product which is offered in wired and wireless formats will take the latter, especially if there is little difference on the price and performance fronts.
“The closing of those two gaps – which have been artificially regulated in the past – is happening much sooner now than ever before, and that is only going to happen faster and faster for the benefit of the consumer,” says Eele.
He believes the dominant national telcos are in the last days of being able to firstly roll out the wired version, “milk” their investment fully and then, ever so gradually, draw back on their charges and let the competition come in at still-inflated prices. Judgment Day for mobile termination rates is imminent too.
The government’s $300 million rural broadband initiative, which aims to take more than 80 percent of rural businesses and households from dial-up to 5Mbit/s broadband (versus 20Mbit/s being promised urban dwellers when the current roadside cabinet and fibre network upgrade project is completed in 2011), Eele believes, should be the last time the focus should be primarily on wired rather than wireless devices.
It’s terribly easy and quite beguiling to get taken up with stories of Apple now offering 225,000 apps (aka “applications”), which have collectively been downloaded a staggering five billion times; that Android is at 60,000, and closing fast, while independent mobile dispenser, GetJar has 72,000 apps for any variety of smartphones which have been downloaded a billion times.
However, the true excitement – away from the marketing hype – is in the inspired usage of the technology; something Kiwis are famous for.
Mobile payments
Mobile technology is advancing rapidly on all fronts – including that of mobile payments. Take the latest prediction on the future of a device that has become so ubiquitous we don’t even notice it anymore – the credit card. According to “Bloomberg Businessweek”, smartphones using RFID (radio frequency identification) technology are already replacing your need to carry them.
Discover Financial Services, Citigroup, and Visa are introducing “contactless payment” technology (see box on EFTPOS) which lets consumers pay for purchases by waving chips attached to their mobiles or tapping their phones (equipped with specially encoded stickers, or holsters) on receivers at the checkout counter.
A co-owner of a Dairy Queen outlet in Rochester, New York, said the technology had encouraged customers to return (encouraged by automatically loaded loyalty points) and sales were up three percent in a static market.
McDonald’s, MCD, 7-Eleven and Home Depot are among the early adopters in the US. Asia is running ahead with this technology and Nokia has started loading its next generation of phones in Europe with the chip.
So there is the challenge: what aren’t you doing right now that this new-age mobile technology could facilitate? An inspiring example follows.
Made4Baby
Rebecca McLeod started Made4Baby after experiencing difficulty finding natural skincare products for her newborn son. With two young boys, one still the proverbial babe-in-arms, she realised that being deskbound was not going to get her anywhere.
She knew instinctively that the products she had come up with were going to be widely sought and had the potential to turn into a global business. But that business would have to be run on mobile technology, to give her the flexibility to be mum and entrepreneur and a one-woman-band.
Telecom stepped up to the plate and put a package together based around a Nokia E71. This allows her to work “on the go” by viewing orders or emails as and when they come through.
On a daily basis, McLeod also taps into Xero when she’s with her clients – largely pharmacies, which she restocks herself during her visits. Her smartphone enables her to keep stock records, process orders and invoice her clients through mobile broadband on her laptop – so she doesn’t suffer that curse of the SME operator; selling all day and then coming home to face the dreaded paperwork, with all the queries she could have sorted out there-and-then.
“And I can regularly update Made4Baby’s Facebook and Twitter sites on my mobile. It’s the best way to keep customers who follow Made4Baby in touch with what’s going on,” says McLeod.
Netbooks vs smartphones
Not only is Made4Baby an example of productivity gains to the power of infinity, but it raises a point Simon Molloy, market development manager, commercial notebooks, at Hewlett-Packard NZ is very keen to make. Netbooks – which he says should be considered as secondary or “companion” devices to regular-sized notebooks or desktops – are going to play a significant role in the mobile marketplace for some time yet.

“For people who travel a great deal, carrying around the confidential information required to run a business can be a big challenge, unless you resort to the use of a companion device, such as a netbook or smartphone. Although these two communication devices have very different physical appearances, their actual use is quite similar; and opinions are varied as to which device has the advantage over the other.
“Netbooks appear to have hit a sweet-spot for both the consumer and the business user. Their low price, almost full size QWERTY keyboards, and built-in applications mean that many people can leave their heavier notebook behind.
“Their batteries can last longer than bigger and more powerful notebooks, they are easier to carry around and they can run the same operating system already in use on most desktop computers.
“Smartphones are also hugely appealing. Smaller in size, they can easily fit in your pocket and carry out the basic functions of a normal PC, using necessary applications. In fact, smartphones have offered much of the same promise of netbooks for years now, including tasks such as mobile document editing, email and web-browsing.
“But in many ways, smartphones haven’t fully reached their potential and many users will never get past the small screens, slower processing speed and small keyboards,” Molloy reckons.
Better web-browsing functionalities and multi-tasking capabilities; keyboard/screen comfort; reading large attachments or editing and sending heavyweight documents; connecting to the web; and processing capabilities make it evident the netbook may outdo the smartphone for mobile business needs.
“Smartphones have failed to deliver on their promise of providing rich Internet experiences, and netbooks are well suited to fill that void,” adds Molloy.
“For SMEs in particular, smartphones may seem ideal because they are light, easy to carry around, they don’t need to be ‘booted up’ and have flexible uses. However, generally the small screen lets it down for business use, other than checking emails, and it doesn’t have the storage space that netbooks do.”
Also not wanting to be left behind by the razzle-dazzle of the iPhone/Android/iPad world, as you’d expect, is Microsoft – which recently launched Office 2010.
“Office 2010 and SharePoint 2010 define the future of productivity,” says Anne Taylor, information worker business group manager, Microsoft NZ. “With 2010, organisations will save, innovate and grow as their people benefit from working across the PC, phone and browser.
People who purchase Office 2010 will have the ability to work from virtually anywhere with Office Web Apps (accessible by setting up a Windows Live account at
www.windowslive.com) – the lightweight web browser versions of Word, PowerPoint, Excel and OneNote.
Office Web Apps offers the same look and feel of a document regardless of device, allowing you to view, edit, store or share an Office document online in the same format you are familiar with on your PC.
“With Office Mobile 2010, people can work with Office documents stored on their phone, attached to an email, and can browse, edit, and update documents stored on a Microsoft SharePoint 2010 site,” explains Taylor. “We’ve also developed tools to help people bring their ideas to life.”
That should be the last thought to leave you with, because that’s what this technology is all about – improving the lives of many and creating new businesses to deliver new services and, through taxes, provide the funding to make these breakthroughs widely accessible.
But you probably need a peek behind the curtains, which Ericsson gave me in their Newmarket offices recently, to appreciate how close 4G technology is and what a quantum leap that is again, in terms of the opportunities it will create for Kiwis with imagination and drive.
Their technology is at work right now – some six months-plus since it went live in Oslo, Norway, when NetCom opened its 4G network to its mobile customers. Sample these download speeds as a taster:
A 500MB film is dropped onto your screen in a matter of minutes.
The live-streaming of HD television is totally seamless and completely free of delays.
A 5MB MP3 file that takes a few minutes on your 3G phone, takes just 1.5 seconds.
The productivity and fun has only just begun. Time to anticipate, innovate and prosper.
Kevin Kevany is an Auckland-based freelance writer. Email
kevwrite@xtra.co.nz

Broadband to deliver “contactless” payments
According to the Deloitte Rugby World Cup economic impact analysis we can expect 70,000-plus overseas visitors with an estimated $1.25 billion burning a hole in their pockets, come the 2011 tournament.
Many are expected to have the now ubiquitous “chip” cards (America and Asia; with Australia, the UK and Europe closing rapidly), enabling “contactless” transactions which greatly speed-up customer processing. Cardholders simply tap the card on a reader at the point-of-sale (POS), removing the need for cash and swiping or inserting cards, says Alan Sharpe, product and marketing manager at EFTPOS NZ.
“These cards have an embedded micro-chip and antenna which uses RFID and encryption technology to make payments fast and secure.
“We have developed one-way and two-way interfaced solutions on the VeriFone Vx810 DUET, utilizing broadband connectivity. The interfaced solutions will allow terminals to connect directly to selected POS systems, removing the need for operators to double-key information.
“Some 60,000 terminals need to be upgraded before 1 June 2011. Particularly, if you are in the retail, tourism or hospitality sectors, you should be thinking about ensuring your new terminal can accept contactless payments,” Sharpe says.

 

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