Demand for prosumer apps to grow big

E-mail tools designed for high-end consumers may give their enterprise counterparts a run for their money, analyst company notes.
Written by Aaron Tan, Contributor

Wireless e-mail applications built for enterprises may be threatened by the growth of similar tools developed for high-end consumers or prosumers, according to Informa Telecoms and Media.

The research company noted in a recent report that prosumers, whose companies pay a proportion of their monthly phone bill, have traditionally been excluded from accessing their corporate e-mail wirelessly. This is typically due to technical barriers where their e-mail devices cannot interoperate with their company's mail servers.

According to figures from Informa, there are currently some 38 million users of personal information management (PIM) applications, such as calendaring software, and corporate e-mail worldwide. Around 5 million people access their e-mail through Research in Motion's (RIM) proprietary BlackBerry product, while the remaining users do so through bespoke configurations of their corporate e-mail servers, Informa noted.

For example, they may forward corporate e-mail messages to their private e-mail accounts which are often set up on third-party push e-mail applications from companies such as Seven and mOrange, or even pull-based tools such as SoonR.

Informa estimated that the total number of mobile e-mail and PIM users would grow threefold between now and 2011, to almost 212 million worldwide. It also projected that revenues from mobile office applications, which include mobile e-mail, PIM and intranet access, are expected to reach US$22.8 billion by 2011.

Although mobile e-mail is a key driver for mobile enterprise software revenues--and will remain so until at least 2011--more mobile operators are exploring the potential of offering e-mail direct to their customers.

"It is inevitable that the prosumer segment will look to access corporate e-mail through their mobile devices," Richard Jesty, an Informa consultant, said in a statement.

Singapore-based StarHub is one telco that has capitalized on this trend.

According to a company spokesperson, StarHub had "anticipated" demand for "secure wireless push-based e-mail" tools that operate on non-BlackBerry mobile phones. It then introduced StarHub Duality, a service targeted at corporate users who have such demands "particularly those who have already invested in mobile devices [other than BlackBerry]", she said in an e-mail interview.

Jesty noted that applications which enable users to access multiple mailboxes from their push e-mail-enabled handsets, are now emerging in the market. As such, it may become more difficult over time to maintain demand for expensive client server tools.

In future, makers of applications such as the BlackBerry, will increasingly begin to offer licensing of their products that run on the back-end or server platform, he suggested.

Norm Lo, vice president at RIM Asia-Pacific, disagreed. He told ZDNet Asia that the company's strategy is to offer services from the client to the server platform. It is "committed" to a product roadmap that encompasses both RIM handhelds and other mobile devices that run on the BlackBerry software platform, Lo said.

RIM currently has agreements with vendors such as Nokia, HTC, Sony Ericsson, Motorola, Siemens and Samsung, which offer products that support BlackBerry Connect and BlackBerry Built-In.

And with the actual device no longer central to any push e-mail solution, Informa noted that there will be a significant increase in the number of corporate wireless e-mail users over the next five years.

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