Latest Mobile Devices Tempt Users but Test IT

Companies face hurdles on adopting iPhone and other consumer gadgets

GRAPEVINE, Texas

New mobile devices, such as the iPhone and the OQO ultramobile PC, are putting pressure on IT managers to address compatibility and security challenges that could create roadblocks to corporate uses of the technologies.

Apple Inc.’s iPhone and OQO Inc.’s Model 02 mobile PC were both announced in January. Last week, the devices seemed to be front and center in the minds of attendees at Gartner Inc.’s Wireless & Mobile Summit 2007 here.

OQOs new ultramobile PC weighs just 1 lb.

OQOs new ultramobile PC weighs just 1 lb.IT managers flocked to a small OQO booth to view the San Francisco-based vendor’s 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 reduce the need for users to lug 8-lb. laptops with them on business trips, said George Genevezos, a senior IT security analyst at Sabre Holdings Corp. in Southlake, Texas.

Other conference attendees voiced admiration for the unit’s clear display, small docking station and Bluetooth-capable keyboard. But there was no question that mobile devices like the OQO will pose challenges to many IT managers.

Consumer Tech Embrace

Sabre, which has about 10,000 employees globally, is wrestling with how to embrace technologies popular with consumers, Genevezos said. The travel company has given BlackBerries to some executives. But most of Sabre’s workers still rely on desktops.

Dealing with security “is a game of catch-up for everybody in IT because there are so many new devices and so many vendors,” Genevezos said, adding that the underlying security technology is “not there” for such products.

Dave Cogswell, director of technical services at Data-Tronics Corp. in Fort Smith, Ark., said mobile devices have begun proliferating much faster over the past two years. “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 simplified the gear that it needs to support for end users by deploying a limited number of mobile devices and operating systems.

For example, about 4,000 truck drivers at Arkansas Best’s ABF Freight System Inc. subsidiary use Sprint Nextel phones, and Data-Tronics also supports “several thousand” handhelds that run Windows Mobile and are Wi-Fi capable, said Cogswell. Eventually, he said, Data-Tronics will search for a phone that supports both Wi-Fi and cellular calls.

An IT manager at a Boston area university said products such as the iPhone will require IT professionals to find ways to support more 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 will probably want to try the iPhone.

Gartner analyst Nick Jones said 2007 has already emerged as a year when IT managers will face multiplying 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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