Gartner has sounded a note of caution on the value of Symbian-based devices for business and enterprise users.
Speaking at the analyst firms Symposium/ITxpo in Cannes on Thursday, research vice president Ken Dulaney said that Symbian has not yet crystallised its message for large companies. "They really don't have a clear, strong enterprise story, and that makes it difficult for them," he said.
Dulaney acknowledged that Symbian-based devices have many advantages over Microsoft's Windows Smartphone devices, including power management, but insisted that "Symbian is a consumer play".
Symbian is backed by all of the major mobile phone manufacturers, including UK handset maker Sendo, which dropped its long-running Windows Powered Smartphone 2002 project on Thursday in favour of Symbian. But the handheld makers do not have the same enterprise focus as Microsoft and its Pocket PC licensees. Nokia's Symbian-based Communicator, integrating a mobile phone and a clamshell PDA, is aimed at the enterprise, but its consumer-oriented 7650 has drawn more attention and bigger sales.
In the mean time, Microsoft is continuing to strengthen its lead in mobile devices for business users, despite the wish of many people to see more diversity, Dulaney said. "I ask clients who they hope will win the war, and they all hope Palm and Nokia will win the war. But I ask them what they are buying and they all say Pocket PC," he said. Pocket PC is Microsoft's handheld computer platform.
Gartner is concerned about Bluetooth. Although Dulaney has no hesitation in recommending that users buy Bluetooth-enabled handsets, he sees problems of interoperability ahead. The solution, according to Dulaney, is for the the Bluetooth Special Interest Group to agree on a certification program similar to that for Wi-Fi. If it doesn't, Microsoft will effectively take over the standard as users will simply start to seek compatibility with the Seattle flavour of Bluetooth, he says. Dulaney also fleshed out Gartner's objections to Tablet PC, saying that Microsoft needs to do some work on major applications if the tablet is to fulfil its potential. "Microsoft needs to go back to Office and rip out the text editor and replace it with Windows Journal," he said, explaining that this would facilitate stronger integration at the application level, enabling users to create "compound multimedia documents". Dulaney doesn't expect this to happen soon: "It'll take two or three iterations," he said. Despite his criticisms of the tablet Dulaney says Gartner views the concept as positive for several areas of work, and reminded the audience that tablet devices have been widely used in some market segments for several years. For prospective tablet buyers, Dulaney's advice is to go with the firms that have already been manufacturing tablets for vertical markets -- Toshiba and Fujitsu Siemens, for example. He sees the HP tablet as "nicely designed", but doesn't like the Transmeta chip that it is based on, as this introduces a risk due to uncertainties around Transmeta's future. He is also doubtful about the Acer Tablet, saying that he thinks it needs more "industrial design" work and that Acer needs to improve its support for enterprise users before businesses should consider it as an option.