New mobile devices hold promise for users, challenges for IT

Companies face hurdles on adopting iPhone, other consumer gadgets

GRAPEVINE, Texas -- New mobile devices, such as the iPhone and the OQO ultramobile PC, are putting heavy pressure on IT managers to address compatibility and security challenges that could create roadblocks to the use of the technologies by business workers.

Apple Inc. previewed the iPhone at last month's Macworld Conference & Expo, and OQO Inc. announced its Model 02 mobile PC at the Consumer Electronics Show that same week -- with Bill Gates showcasing the PC in his CES keynote speech. This week, the two devices seemed to be front and center in the minds of attendees at Gartner Inc.'s Wireless & Mobile Summit 2007 here.

For example, IT managers flocked to a small OQO booth on the trade show floor to view the 1-lb. ultramobile unit, which has a 5-in. display and can run either Windows Vista or Windows XP Professional.

The OQO system "is pretty neat" and might help solve the road warrior's dilemma of having to lug an 8-lb. laptop on business trips, said George Genevezos, senior IT security analyst at Sabre Holdings Inc. in South Lake, Texas.

Other conference attendees voiced admiration for the PC's clear display, small docking station and Bluetooth-capable keyboard, among other peripherals. But there was no mistaking that the OQO system, the iPhone and other new mobile devices will pose challenges to many IT managers.

"There just seems to be more of everything in mobile devices and software to deal with this year," Genevezos said. "It seems that every vendor imaginable is getting into the mobile space as quickly as possible."

Sabre, which has about 10,000 employees globally, is wrestling with how to embrace new technologies that become popular with consumers, Genevezos said. The travel-industry company has given BlackBerry devices to some top executives. But for the most part, Sabre's workers still rely on desktop PCs.

Dealing with the security issues raised by consumer-oriented devices "is a game of catch-up for everybody in IT because there are so many new devices and so many vendors," Genevezos said. In general, he added, underlying security technology is "not there" for the new products. And, he noted, the process for installing security updates in Windows Mobile is different from the process for updating Windows Vista, adding even more complexity.

Dave Cogswell, director of technical services at Data-Tronics Corp. in Fort Smith, Ark., said mobile devices have been proliferating much faster over the past two years than they had been prior to that. "Every quarter, there's a new cell phone to consider," he said.

Data-Tronics provides IT services to the operating units of Arkansas Best Corp., a transportation holding company in Fort Smith. Cogswell said Data-Tronics has learned to simplify the gear that it needs to support for end users by deploying only a limited number of different mobile devices and operating systems.

For example, about 4,000 truck drivers at Arkansas Best's ABF Freight Systems Inc. subsidiary use Nextel phones, and Data-Tronics also supports "several thousand" handhelds that run Windows Mobile and are Wi-Fi capable, according to Cogswell. Eventually, he said, Data-Tronics will be searching for a converged phone supporting Wi-Fi and cellular calls.

An IT manager at a major university in the Boston area said products such as the iPhone will make it necessary for IT professionals like himself and others to figure out ways to support an even wider range of devices than they imagined even a year ago.

The IT manager, who asked not to be identified, said that about 30% of the users at the university have Macintosh computers and probably will want to try out the iPhone on campus once it becomes available.

Gartner analyst Nick Jones said 2007 has already emerged as a year when IT managers will face more and more options for mobile computing -- and they will have to choose not only among a variety of hardware devices but also among operating systems, such as Windows Mobile and the Symbian OS favored by Nokia Corp. "Confusion is definitely rising," Jones said.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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