Laptops are top choice for mobile working

When it comes to an all-round device for staying productive outside the office, you can't beat a notebook, according to research carried out by ZDNet.co.uk

Despite the plethora of smartphones and BlackBerry-like devices now available, when it comes to working on the move, a laptop with wireless capability is still the trusted favourite for most people.

A survey undertaken by ZDNet.co.uk in association with market researcher Rhetorik Market Intelligence found that more than a third of respondents preferred laptops with mobile connectivity to handheld mobile devices. This is because the large display enables them to work with complex and detailed documents, including spreadsheets, presentations, graphical data or rich media.

The laptop fans also claimed they could access the same Microsoft Office applications and documents available on their office-based desktops and appreciated having a full-sized keyboard, which made the machines easy and quick to use.

When questioned as to their perception of mobile handhelds, there was strong consensus that functionality was not yet as good as that provided by laptops, while the high cost of airtime was offputting when using multifunction handheld devices in particular. Battery life was considered to be an issue when using both types of device.

"Users believe that the functionality of handheld devices is not yet up to that of laptops, so clearly the portability and convenience of these devices doesn't fully overcome some of the disadvantages that come with their size," says Rick Paskins, managing director of Rhetorik.

More than four-fifths of those organisations questioned said they were currently using laptops both within and outside the office, but a further six percent indicated that they expected to introduce them over the following two years.

The second most popular device, meanwhile, was the trusty mobile phone, with about one in five respondents claiming allegiance. Somewhat surprisingly, however, PDAs that included mobile voice, data and email connectivity were next in line with 13 percent of the vote. This was ahead of Research in Motion's BlackBerry device, which only 11 percent of the sample valued most highly, even though adoption levels are currently higher.

Some 44 percent of organisations have deployed the BlackBerry to date, with another 12 percent expecting to do so over the next couple of years. This compares with only 32 percent penetration for PDAs incorporating the functionality listed above, although another 15 percent anticipate going down this route in future.

Interestingly, the uptake of PDAs with only mobile voice and data connectivity (23 percent) was noticeably less widespread than those with only email connectivity (35 percent), which indicates the appeal of email as an application.

Mobile email is currently used by about 77 percent of the sample questioned, but future uptake is predicted to increase by only another seven percent over the next two years due to the maturity of the market.

Other Tier one applications, meanwhile, include voice (used by 86 percent of respondents now, although this figure should grow by another two percent by 2009), SMS (77 percent, with three percent growth expected) and internet access (73 percent at the moment, but likely to rise by six percent in the next few years).

Tier two applications, which were used by between a quarter and two-fifths of those surveyed, include personal directories, instant messaging (IM) and global positioning systems GPS. While adoption of the former...

...is expected to grow at a modest nine percent, it is anticipated that uptake of IM services will jump by more like 19 percent, while GPS deployment should almost double to penetrate nearly half of all of the companies that took part in the study.

Other areas of big growth potential include mobile videoconferencing and database applications. Although the installed base currently amounts to only 10 and 16 percent of respondents respectively, a huge 29 percent would like to roll out the mobile videoconferencing to staff within two years, and two-fifths would like to deploy database applications.

As to what technical features users would like to see on their handheld mobile devices in future, support for high-speed data communications and internet access were top of the agenda, although adoption had already taken place among almost two-fifths and one-half respectively.

But there was also demand for devices that could work across multiple networks and access fixed-line communication services in an office setting, despite the fact that uptake to date is relatively low, among the latter category in particular.

In relation to the connectivity options that people go for today, about 69 percent support Bluetooth, while 61 percent boast Wi-Fi wireless hotspot access, although uptake is expected to grow by six percent and 18 percent respectively over the next few years.

So taken as a whole, this would appear to indicate that levels of mobility across the UK workforce are already high. To back this assumption up, nearly a quarter of all of the companies questioned said more than half of their employees were mobile workers these days, with only 15 percent claiming that this applied to less than five percent of staff.

Penetration was polarised in the small office/home office (SOHO) sector, however, with more than half stating that over 50 percent of personnel were mobile and a quarter specifying that mobility was very low indeed.

Despite this, mobility appears to be a growing phenomenon across the board. Nearly two-thirds of respondents said that they expected such activity to increase over the next two years, while most of the rest, which comprised mainly SOHO companies and those with currently low introduction rates, anticipated that figures would remain static.

"Clearly the availability of appropriate technology in the form of both devices and networks is a driver for mobility as well as increasing cost-effectiveness. There are also social trends that are important here, such as an increased desire for flexible working as organisations start to realise the benefits that it can bring," says Paskins.

The most avid users of mobile devices at the moment, however, are senior managers, with almost 80 percent of the research base reporting deployment here. This is not only because such people tend to be on the road a lot anyway, but also because they like the prestige factor of having access to the latest technology.

But other key users consist of the traditional "road warriors" in the shape of sales and service engineers as they require good communication tools in order to boost their effectiveness while out of the office. Some 58 percent of companies surveyed provided mobile technology to the first class of employees and 44 percent to the second. The same applied to only 18 percent of logistics and delivery personnel, however, even though such staff are often out and about just as much.

Of the 371 executives who took part in the survey, about 30 percent worked in large corporates with more than 1,000 staff; 29 percent were used by small to medium-sized enterprises with between 11 and 250 employees; 23 percent had one to 10 personnel; 13 percent had a headcount of between 251 and 1,000, and the rest did not know.

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