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January 11, 2009

2008: the year of the smartphone

Following the emergence of smartphones, Datamonitor assesses their potential to become the mobile professionals' device of choice, given their potential as enterprise computing terminals, and the support of major players such as Nokia, Apple and Google. However, despite the apparent dominance of smartphones, netbooks are differentiated sufficiently to complement rather than compete in the market.

By CBR Staff Writer

The release of Apple’s iPhone 3G in June 2008 ignited the smartphone market. Although the device has its flaws, the product brought together telephony, internet access and multimedia experience in a manner that other vendors had not managed. The success of the iPhone helped to convince large enterprise application vendors that the enterprise mobility market may be worth investing in. For example, in 2008 Oracle released a range of business process approval applications for the iPhone, which allow mobile workers to act on simple business processes tasks, such as approving expense claims or signing-off sales proposals.

Google’s entry into the smartphone market during 2008 is also significant. In October 2008, HTC’s G1 became the first smartphone available in the market to run Android, Google’s open-source mobile operating system. Android is of interest to enterprises due to its tight integration with Google’s collaboration and office productivity suite, Google Apps. In 2009, Datamonitor expects to see other enterprise applications available for Android. Given the close relationship between and Google, which includes a ‘Salesforce for Google Apps’ offering, the enterprise applications built on’s platform appear to be the most likely candidates. Expanding the availability of enterprise applications for Android will boost the appeal, to enterprises, of devices running Google’s mobile platform.

The unprecedented interest in smartphones and the rise of netbooks has led media commentators to question which product category will emerge as the end-point of choice for mobile professionals. In Datamonitor’s opinion, the two product categories can co-exist. Some prosumers, that is professionals who use consumer technologies for business purposes, may deliberate over whether to invest in a smartphone or a netbook. Yet the majority of professionals will have a clear choice.

Datamonitor does not believe that smartphones are a viable option for roles that require document editing or heavy use of applications. Smartphone screens may be adequate for web browsing but they are unsuitable for editing documents. Precisely for that reason, Oracle is focusing on business process approval applications, in which only a small amount of relevant information is presented to the mobile worker, allowing him or her to act on the workflow action required. Datamonitor is convinced that porting large amounts of data or functionality to a mobile device is impractical and inefficient.

By contrast, netbooks are better equipped for document manipulation and the use of enterprise applications, combining much of the portability of a smartphone with the functionality of a laptop. Netbooks are suitable for professionals who work in remote locations and set up transient offices. However, for mobile professionals such as sales and service workers who are constantly on the move and do not require heavy use of enterprise applications, a smartphone will clearly emerge as the end-point device of choice.

In 2009 Datamonitor expects the expansion of netbook and smartphone sales alike, which it does not believe should be in direct competition. Indeed, Datamonitor advises hardware vendors to keep the two product categories separate, as this may be the only way to avoid mutual cannibalization of the overlapping product lines. The separation should also help hardware vendors to manage customer expectations and avoid disenchantment, which could arise due to misinformed purchases. Meanwhile, enterprise application vendors need to understand the distinct characteristics and use-patterns associated with netbook and smartphone devices in order to develop applications suitable for each terminal. For enterprise IT decision makers, it will be vital to realize the strengths and weaknesses of each device category, and make informed purchasing decisions that are appropriate for specific types of mobile workers.


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