Whither the laptop? End users gain more mobility

Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer

I acquired an LG smartphone via Verizon a few months back, and it's amazing how much I can now do from the road, untethered from WiFi hot spots. I can now e-mail and surf the Web day and night, from anywhere, from the device.

However, there are limits. For example, it would have been too painful to try to write this blog post from the phone. My thumbs would probably go numb. Forget trying to crank out a research project or white paper. As Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney put it in a new Network World article, "Smartphones are still content consumption devices, not content creation ones. Every knowledge worker has to do content creation, so you've got to have a desktop or a laptop to do it."

Still, the idea that many of the things we needed laptops to do now can be done on handheld devices is a compelling thought. The possibility of clients being mobilized with very small-footprint devices has been talked about for more than a decade, and bandwidth and device capabilities are finally making this a reality.

The article speculates that many businesspeople, especially road warriors, may be finding it a lot handier to use smartphones -- including iPhones and Blackberries -- than cart around laptops. Increasingly, a lot of commonly used laptop functions, such as email and Web browsing, have become available on smart phones.

IBM recently announced plans to shift $100 million investment over the next five years into mobile computing research, with the aim of bringing "simple, easy-to-use services to the millions of people who have bypassed using the personal computer as their primary method of accessing the Internet, and instead use their mobile devices for managing large forces of enterprise field workers, conducting financial transactions, entertainment, shopping, and more."

The Network World article points to individuals that are throwing out their laptops in favor of using a PC for desktop work and the mobile devices for on-the-road connectivity. Again, there are the limitations of document creation and manipulation, but smartphones are now capable of picking up quite a bit of the slack. And, of course, there is another option, the new breed of lightweight, inexpensive netbooks now popular, which are laptops that meet the smartphones halfway.

Many companies have already realized measurable productivity gains deploying smartphones and handheld devices to field service employees. For example, at a conference last month, I heard Kevin Flowers, director of enabling enterprises for Coca-Cola Enterprises, describe how his team service-enabled the soft drink manufacturer's merchandisers through mobile technologies.

Previously, all 11,000 merchandisers -- who work out in the field, visiting stores -- keep in touch via an 800 call-in number and paperwork forms. Flowers pointed out that there were charges associated with line usage, and that the FCC charges for payphone usage alone -- keep in mind that 11,000 people were doing this everyday -- amounted to more than $2 million a year.

The solution was to provide Blackberries with links to all merchandising services, and in the process save tens of millions of dollars in phone charges and travel expenses. Along with reduced phone charges in the millions of dollars, Coca-Cola's merchandising operations saved more than $3 million a year in travel costs.

The adoption of smartphones is a smart approach for enterprises looking to provide additional flexibility for employees on the go. Smartphones are increasingly behaving like small, handheld laptop computers, but with greater versatility and portability.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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