Stop inventing mobile phones

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Editor’s Note: The following article is reprinted from Network World.

I’m a cheerleader for competition, innovation, freedom of choice and all that, but the volume of mobile operating systems and phone types has reached the point of creating industry chaos and confusion for both enterprises and consumers. Google’s recent foray into the mobile phone market with its Android-based, HTC-manufactured Nexus One makes me wonder: Should the industry just take a breather for a few months while broadband wireless network buildouts and mobile device management (MDM) capabilities catch up to smartphone demands?

The smartphones rolling out in droves, including the Google Nexus One, are first and foremost mini-personal computers. Despite the “smartphone” name, the phone part of the devices is their least optimized feature. Feature wars are in full swing when what most people fundamentally want is a phone that works consistently, reliably, with sharp voice quality anywhere they go. Of course they want all the other stuff, too. But at a minimum, they’d first like to make phone calls that don’t give them nervous breakdowns.

Don’t get me wrong: the Nexus One has cool things going for it, such as voice activation of virtually every command and two microphones; one on the front and back to cancel out background noise, which should help on the voice quality issue. It’s also a welcome additional option for international travelers, who can get it unlocked with no service commitment and simply drop in the SIM card of the country they’re visiting so they can pay lower local rates. Google is certain to shake up the traditional mobile carrier-phone ecosystems, which could use some shaking up.

However, I’ve talked to many a telecom manager who has attempted to support all the various phones users bring into the enterprise and has ultimately given up. They’ve returned to a streamlined model of supporting a few enterprise-caliber devices such as the BlackBerry that can be managed and secured like an enterprise device should.

That’s because getting client agent software for iPhone OS X, BlackBerry, Symbian, multiple flavors of Android, PalmOS, webOS and Windows Mobile that consistently delivers robust management, security and expense management across all the handsets is no easy feat. MDM strides are being made rapidly, for sure. Today, though, you have to cobble together a management strategy from several vendors, each with a piece of what you want, to the point that you might be managing devices from a half dozen management application displays. You almost need a help desk for every phone type.

Meanwhile, iPhones remain in demand, but AT&T’s network capacity is prominently choking to death. Android phones are piling up, but hardware and software versions are out of sync and the mobile OS itself is growing fragmented. Consumers don’t know a Droid from an Android from a Nexus One, and enterprises don’t have too many Android MDM options available to them yet.

One hope is that Google’s online-only stores for Android devices like the Nexus One might include software-as-a-service MDM with features akin to those in the BlackBerry Enterprise Server and Good Technology management servers plus wireless telecom expense management.

But then you’ll still need MDM solutions for all the other devices you support, if you don’t standardize on Android. Mobile phones are becoming the bane of enterprises’ existence; perhaps the industry could hold off on new models while some of the back-end issues get cleared up?

[Joanie Wexler is an independent networking technology writer/editor in Silicon Valley.]

This story, "Stop inventing mobile phones" was originally published by Network World.

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