Secrets of the enterprise smartphone

Strong feelings and mixed results are revealed in our survey of smartphones in the enterprise — with the iPhone receiving special attention

While tough economic conditions mean IT departments are facing increasing scrutiny over tech purchases, UK companies are still keen on smartphones and all they can bring the enterprise.

However, the innate conservatism in corporate IT means there is still some resistance to more advanced, idiosyncratic devices such as the iPhone.

ZDNet UK's survey of nearly 400 UK IT professionals shows that more than half of their companies had deployed smartphones in the enterprise, with a further 14 percent either planning or considering rolling out the devices. Of those companies that are already using the devices, 38 percent said they were planning to increase that use, while 26 percent said they had no plans to expand the number of devices at the moment.

Has your company considered issuing smartphones to its employees?

Only 25 percent of those surveyed said they were not using smartphones, or had considered it and decided not to. Those who had adopted enterprise smartphones said that email, scheduling, IM and web access were the main driving forces, while the main drawback cited by those businesses that decided against smartphones was expense.

Approximately 52 percent of IT pros surveyed said that 'smart' came at too high a price, with concerns about security also a deal-breaker for 19 percent of respondents.

There was even support for the deeply unfashionable personal digital assistant, or PDA, long since considered nearly extinct in the rest of the world. "Better to have simple functional phone and separate iPaq," one respondent said.

When asked specifically about ownership of the smartphones in their business, 35 percent of respondents said they had bought the device, while a further 27 percent said they were given the handset with a service plan. Of the respondents who said they owned their own smartphone, the vast majority — 89 percent — said they used it for work.

Does the smartphone belong to you?

Moving on to which specific types of smartphones are finding favour with UK plc at the moment, HTC proved the most popular, with 19 percent of the IT professionals surveyed; followed by Nokia at 18 percent; and Blackberry at 16 percent. This hierarchy was also reflected when respondents were asked about which phone operating system their companies favoured. Windows Mobile, which runs on the majority of HTC phones, came in at 47 percent, followed by RIM's OS and Symbian.

Which smartphone do you use?

The G1 Android was used by around two percent of respondents, with other also-rans including Palm, Sony, Samsung and Motorola.

Which leaves Apple's iPhone. While the hype around the handset might have suggested greater uptake, around 14 percent of respondents said they were using Apple's smartphone. That is five percent behind the leader, HTC, which can be seen as either very impressive, given Apple's legendary coolness towards...

...enterprise sales, or an indication that the phone's relentless consumer bias is limiting its corporate appeal. Apple also had a respectable share of the smartphone operating system market with 20 percent of users claiming to use it compared to just 15 percent for smartphone stalwart Symbian.

When asked directly whether their company was planning to adopt the iPhone, nearly half of respondents — 49 percent — answered in the negative. The good news for Apple is that 22 percent of respondents were either already using the iPhone or had plans to adopt it.

Has your company considered deploying iPhones?

Those who dismiss the iPhone say that expense is the chief motivator in 53 percent of cases. Other factors that proved a turn-off included lack of full support for Microsoft Exchange (despite Apple's efforts in this area); ease of management; and a lack of security around the iPhone.

Why is your company not considering deploying iPhones?

Other reasons given for iPhone rejection include the lack of a traditional mini-Qwerty keyboard, the perceived fragility of the device and a dislike of operator 02, which currently has the monopoly on iPhone sales in the UK Some respondents also made it clear that they were against all things Apple: in an industry supposedly based on logic and analysis, brand-based feelings can run very hot and cold.

Respondents were also asked what would need to change to allow the iPhone into their organisation, assuming cost and corporate policy were not issues. One reason given was the difficulty in managing and updating multiple iPhones. "The reason we are not going ahead with iPhone solution is the central management that is not available if you have too many of them. Distribution of these phones and locking and unlocking them is not possible in the current OS/solution," one respondent said. "If these functions were there we could have considered them — especially given that everyone from our staff has either got one or is planning to get it."

Other respondents came back to Apple's lack of history in the enterprise. "Apple's image is of a consumer-market-orientated company, not corporate at the moment," said one public-sector IT professional. Another noted that "the iPhone is not considered a serious business tool and is therefore unlikely to be adopted".

The iPhone aside, other issues raised in the survey included the most popular applications for smartphones. Unsurprisingly email leads the pack with 93 percent of respondents, followed by calendering and contacts. Web browsing and instant messaging also proved popular with 46 percent and 31 percent of respondents respectively, which may be down to the influence of the iPhone and the work done by Apple to make browsing a much more user-friendly experience.

Which mobile applications are most important to your staff?

Overall, it appears as if the smartphones are breaking out of the 'only-for-the-suits' niche they occupied. That said, many companies are still conservative when it comes to anything that smacks of consumer frippery, with the usability of the iPhone almost counting against it in some circles, where seriousness goes hand in hand with complexity and a poorly thought-out user-interface.

While phone makers and users adjust to the shake-up wrought by Apple, another is surely on its way in the shape of Linux and Google's Android operating system, which promises to bring some of the smart thinking around applications but at a much lower cost than the iPhone: a potentially winning combination, given the state of most IT budgets for the foreseeable future.