No sooner had Jeff Beezos publicly introduced the new Kindle Fire than commentators began dissecting it and making bold predictions.
Some insist that it is an iPad killer based on price point alone. Others believe it has carved out a new space and will succeed by enlarging the tablet market rather than cutting into iPad’s share.
Regardless of how the increasingly competitive tablet market plays out over the coming years, recent developments have revealed some interesting aspects of the tablet market that may be lessons for corporate IT decision makers. Consider that the prices of main-stream mobile devices are dropping. Although Kindle Fire has fewer features than the iPad, it has essential features for quickly viewing a wide range of image, video, and text based information. And at $199, the device is practically disposable.
This downward price trend is also true for high end smartphones. When iPhones first came to market four years ago, they sold for $599 (for the 8Gig of memory model). Within a few years the price point for high end phones settled in to the $200 to $300 range with a contract. However every new smartphone model comes with more computing power (including dual-core processors for the new generation), more memory, and other new features its predecessor did not have. This makes the new phones more serviceable devices for the same price.
Another interesting insight into pricing of mobile devices comes from HP as it lurches forward in search of a vision. When HP announced it was getting out of the tablet business and dropped the price its unpopular TouchPad from $379 to $99, it set off a mind boggling buying frenzy. Some observers noted that price matters.
Jeff Beezos suggests the success of tablet devices depends on the information services behind them (and in an earlier blog, I had made a similar observation, context can be a driving force). The iPad currently dominates the tablet market with a rich applications store and iTunes. Amazon’s Kindle Fire comes to market with books, streaming video, Android’s application marketplace, and a different kind of browsing technology that is supposed to accelerate access to internet based information. Other tablet makers have largely failed because information is not part of the offering. It is the information behind the device that matters perhaps more than the device itself, or as I have said in the past, the compelling event is the app.
One lesson here that is relevant to mobility in business is that the devices themselves are not so important. In fact devices are becoming so cheap and so functional that device adoption decisions are more like non-decisions. What makes these devices valuable is their relationship to corporate information. What applications will they run? What back-end data is available to workers? How can mobile workers use their devices to augment the data everyone on the organization depends upon? These are the real questions.
My mom always said, “It’s really worth getting along with your neighbors”. And my father would counter, “Good fences make good neighbors”. As valuable as these two conflicting bits of advice are relative to life in general, they are equally trenchant when it comes to a problem that nearly all enterprise mobile device ecosystems are going to face. In an enterprise mobile ecosystem of user supplied devices, enterprise apps and data will very likely be sharing space and resources with various kinds of personal content.
Initially, the concerns that arise from this consideration will have to do with availability of device resources, and it could be something as simple as “Will the device owner take so many pictures or videos with the onboard camera that there won’t be enough memory left for mobile business apps to function effectively?”. While introducing elements of uncertainty and the possibility that exceptional conditions will arise, these types of constraints are things app designers can work around if they are aware the potential for problems exists. Today, however, we are on the threshold of some dramatically more complex issues. Softpedia News reports that 87% of Wi-Fi Smartphones will support 802.11n in 2014.
Ubiquitous Wi-Fi in smartphones means that mobile devices will take a primary role in serving interactive content like multiplayer online gaming, streaming video and audio, and providing users with personal access to web-based assets like email and social media. Given this, it is very likely that some of the next generation mobile app neighbors will prove rambunctious. Because users own devices, and in many cases, pay for connectivity themselves, enterprise mobile apps that piggy back on these platforms have to toe a blurry line in terms of how much control they can exercise over a device and how many of its resources they can permanently co-opt. On the one hand it would be unreasonable to deny a user access to her own device or its feature set; On the other hand, enterprise mobile apps have to be able to:
• Operate with enough security to protect the privacy of sensitive data
• Operate robustly enough to ensure transactions are complete and validated
• Maintain sufficient contact with enterprise back end data repositories so they present the mobile worker with timely and accurate business intelligence
And not only do they have to be able to accomplish all of these objectives, they have to do so in a consistent fashion across a variety of mobile device hosts. Enterprise ready mobile strategy for a diverse population of Wi-Fi capable user devices demands a safe and durable sandbox in which enterprise mobile apps can live and function, without either unnecessarily impinging on their neighbors or being trampled by them.
There once was a time when people who talked about the weather were considered boring. Not Anymore. Weather (referred to in California as Wrath o’God) is a headline enterprise concern, over and over again. In a recent West Coast event, 3 million people in Southern California, Arizona, New Mexico and Mexico went dark for a day in early September, one of the hottest times of the year in those places. And this doesn’t factor in more routine phenomenon like earthquakes, firestorms, and mudslides. When these events occur, we’re talking no air conditioning, no traffic lights, no gas pumps, and perhaps more significantly, no cash registers. But guess what? A lot of folks still had cell service, and were able to continue working using mobile devices and cloud based infrastructure. Enterprise mobility architectures have a key role to play in maintaining business function during adverse events, and IT professionals who manage for availability will increasingly be looking to the cloud to spread risk in situations that could threaten business continuity.
It is admittedly simplistic, but a recent seven page PDF published by the US Department of Homeland Security and the Advertising Council provided a barebones template for a business continuity plan. It concerns itself with how an enterprise will preserve life, assets and business data. Realistically, however, to guarantee availability and continuity, it’s not enough to simply ensure that line-of-business apps and data will survive a disruption; mobility IT management infrastructure must also remain accessible and remain capable of running, provisioning and maintaining security of a mobile device network.
With business continuity on everyone’s mind, pairing mobile devices and cloud based infrastructure is a rising trend. This is now a core competency requirement for mobile technology managers and planners as well. Vendors are already consolidating and positioning to serve an emerging global market for hybrid and integrated cloud services. Recently, Verizon bought Massachusetts based CloudSwitch, a company whose technology offers enterprise an incremental path to the cloud or a means of operating a hybrid of in-house/cloud based architectures. Amazon, RightScale, Rackspace and others are jostling in the space, offering a variety of options worth evaluating. The important thing is to assess risks and plan ahead, because there doesn’t seem to be an acre of North America where there hasn’t been business continuity issues this year. And Hawaii has all of those volcanoes….
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