There are no good enterprise mobiles…

by Ben Smith on 16th December 2009

There are no good mobiles for the enterprise… That’s the grim realisation I’ve come to over the last few weeks.  There are plenty to chose from, but stop buying for yourself and try buying for 100s of people considering all the costs. Then choose one that will be reliable enough to entrust your business and your customer communication with…  It begins to put things like battery life and software bugs in a sharp focus.

The Enterprise.... Yes, I went there. Image by Flickr user 'fusionpander', used under CC license. ‘The Enterprise’… Yes, I went there.

Image by Flickr user fusionpander, used under CC license.

Choosing a new phone is geek nirvana… reading up on specs, tech blogs’ opinions and other owners’ tweets. There’s a huge choice of platforms, shapes and prices. I love it. If you’re reading this I suspect you do too.

But imagine you had to choose for someone else. Not a friend… Not a family member… but someone you barely know.  A colleague. You know their job, but not their habits or preferences.  Then imagine it’s not just one colleague, it’s 100. And some of them haven’t even joined the firm yet so you can’t ask them what they want.

Now what do you choose?  That’s the challenge I’ve been faced with recently.

It’s clearly time for some educated guesswork… You choose something that suits the kind of tasks your business does, something that will be around for a while so the IT department can support it and something your preferred suppliers can sell you. If you’re nice (like we are) you pick something that colleagues like when they test it too.

The problem is that, taking all that into consideration, there are no good enterprise mobiles.

Nada. None. Zip.

“Rubbish” you’re screaming… So… let me talk you through it.

Blackberry:

This is a no brainer really isn’t it… You want enterprise handsets, you get Blackberry. They do e-mail, calendar, contacts and 3rd party apps all with a nice management wrapper for the IT chaps to manage it all. Lovely. Except for the price…

If you want the business cleverness you’ve got to get BES. And that needs to run alongside your email server, be architected, maintained, managed, backed-up and operated by someone who knows how. You’ve got to pay a license fee per user too. Of course you can out-source all of this, but that’s no more free than the in-house solution. And we’re supporting 100 smartphone users here… the big cheeses are understandably reluctant to start messing with the e-mail servers which need to support thousands of other people too.

The devices are nice-enough looking and few complain at being offered one – they’re a badge of honour in the city – but having watched a normob (my long suffering other-half) struggle to change basic settings on her new Curve recently they’re still seriously lacking in the usability department. There’ll be plenty amongst those 100 who’ll need help and that will cost too…

The bosses point out that no other range of handsets needs all this complex supporting infrastructure and they don’t want bells or whistles. So it’s a no, just on price.

Nokia:

This was my chance to shine… “try Nokia’s E-series” I cried envisioning rooms full of happy E-series toting colleagues. Mail for Exchange would sort our syncing needs for free, there are apps out there (if we want them) and the devices are as stylish and robust as you could ask for. Problem solved.

Except the users hate them. A lot. The complaints are consistent… the contacts and calendar apps are too basic, the menu system is a maze and the new devices are buggy. We’ve tested E75s and E72s… call quality and battery life were great. Everything else… wasn’t.  The E72 I promised would be ‘excellent’ crashes frequently and has, on occasion, emitted a strange squealing noise until the battery was pulled.  We could wait for the usual firmware upgrades and deploy 3rd party PIM replacement products, but once again the cost (in terms of man power as well as software) is prohibitive… these aren’t power users – they just want the core smartphone features to work well.

So I eat humble pie and we move on…

Palm:

Treos are our current solution and to say they are unloved is putting it mildly. A recent user survey returned comments I couldn’t publish here.  To cap it all Palm are killing their Windows mobile range anyway so we’re forced to move on. The Pre isn’t available from our operator and it’s far from impressive enough to inspire a move.

iPhone:

This is the one the users clamour for and, since the announcements from all the major operators that they’ll carry it, it’s a possibility.  However, despite a significant number of fans amongst the users (this is the only handset users repeatedly ask for) its dire battery life falls well short of the ‘reliably lasting a full working day with normal use’ criteria we’ve specified.  It’s also a bit pricey as we’re paying for a well specified media player we don’t really need to buy.

Android:

In terms of generally available handsets via the mainstream UK operators this means an HTC device at present.  The recent ones do have Exchange syncing built-in, but this is an immature solution and Android is still changing rapidly. It’s possibly one to watch, but not a long-term investment yet.

Windows Mobile:

And so we’re down to barrel scraping… The usability is dire, the users already hate it on Palm Treos, but better specified Windows Mobile devices are available from HTC amongst others, but quality varies wildly, radio and battery performance is average and the turn-over of devices by operators is alarmingly rapid.  It’s the least immediately offensive choice given the major failings of all the other choices, but not a range or a platform to commit long-term to.

And that’s it. In one pass every major platform and manufacturer dismissed from this massive marketplace.

I honestly have no idea what we’ll do… It looks like we’ll spend a fortune on new devices plus software or accessories to address their failings without really giving the users the choice or power they (and I) assumed is out there… and if you think I’ve got problems pity the people procuring devices for tens of thousands of users.

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