Smartphone Design Peaks as Virtual Software and Applications Take Center Stage

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They are slick, well designed and incredibly functional. Despite their present-day “wow factor”, however, smartphones may have hit the ergonomics wall in terms of the balance between beauty and real world utility.

“Industrial design is pretty much at its limits in terms of being a purchase motivator,” says Craig Mathias, a long-time mobile and wireless analyst who has been following cell phones and smartphones since the clumsy bag phones were all the rage. Today, “it’s all about the user interface and apps. We will see relatively little evolution in terms of industrial design going forward.”

The next wave of development will focus on software, the user experience and mobile device management (MDM), especially if you are an IT person who is struggling with the ‘bring your own device’ (BYOD) tsunami that is presently engulfing businesses of all sizes, he said, speaking on new device trends and developments at Interop 2012 that wraps up today in Las Vegas.

Issues such as mobile management, compliance, mobile expense management, and so on are huge roadblocks, with security being the biggest iceberg looming on the horizon. “Security is the number one reason people do not adopt BYOD strategies,” he noted. “Most people think cell phones are secure, when in fact it is just a form of encryption applied by the carrier.”

One of the big problems is that most enterprises think of BYOD security as an afterthought — something that can be added later once a range of devices unofficially crashes the corporate IT party. “Mobile device management has to be considered from the beginning, not as an add-on somewhere down the line,” said Andrew Borg, Research Director, Enterprise Mobility & Communications, at the Aberdeen Group.

Some studies reveal that up to 72% of companies in the U.S. have accepted BYOD activities without any official deployment or management policies in place for their use. This is a recipe for disaster given projections that shipments of media tablets worldwide were forecast to reach 60 million units last year, with a projection of 275 million or more total tablet shipments by 2015.

In fact, while many companies believe that having employees foot the bill for their own devices under the umbrella of BYOD is a cheaper way to go, it will eventually cost the average company about 30% more as compared with having a mobile device management strategy in place at the beginning, according to Aberdeen Research.

Accent on the Apps

While Borg didn’t necessarily agree with Mathias’ prediction that smartphone designs had peaked, he did say that going forward, less emphasis will be placed on the hardware and more on the software and virtual applications. “When you are talking about handsets, you’re not talking about hardware anymore, but user access to data,” he explained.

In the coming months, you will see enhanced versions of existing and evolving operating systems offering tighter integration with enterprise services, Borg pointed out. These mobile OS platforms and utilities may also be enhanced to allow more leeway for outside devices that are a part of the BYOD trend.

One example is Research in Motion’s release of Blackberry Mobile Fusion that manages Apple iOS and Android devices as well as Blackberry smartphones and RIM PlayBook tablets.

Analysts on the Interop panel also pointed to the continuing battle between OS operating environments, in particular Google Android and Apple iOS. “The losers will most likely be Windows Phones and Blackberry devices, said Farpoint Group analyst Craig Mathias. “They have little chance of gaining significant market share in handsets.”

More Interop-related news and features:

Application-aware networking flies under the radar at Interop 2012

Can putting video in the cloud save WAN bandwidth?

Completing he mobile vision:  Breaking the habit of the desktop phone

SearchNetworking’s Interop 2012 Full Coverage Report

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