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Selection Criteria For Mobile Devices

Selecting the right device for corporate projects

In today's handheld device environment, you are faced with many choices. The following list represents only a few of these choices:

  • "Good old" notebooks - the work horses of mobile computing
  • PalmOS devices - PDAs like Palm Pilot, Handspring's Visor
  • Microsoft's Pocket PC or Windows CE based devices like Compaq's IPaq
  • EPOC-based devices, primarily from Europe
  • Specialized proprietary PDAs - DataRover
  • Smart web-enabled phones for consumer applications
  • Combination devices with phone and PDA functionality like Handspring's Visor Phone, Ericsson's R380, Samsung SPH1300 or Kyocera QCP-6035 
  • Choice between ruggedized and non-ruggedized models of certain devices
  • Wearable computers for specialized applications

Are you confused with these choice? Do you know the criteria that you should use - choice between pen based palm PC or keyboard-attached clamshell variety, color or monochrome screen, backlighting, battery life, handwriting recognition capability, size, weight, amount of main memory, and availability of an expansion slot. Once you decide what functions and capacity you want, the choice of devices might be quite limited.

On this topic, features and price of the basic device are only two parts of a multi-part puzzle in an enterprise project where you must deploy hundreds or thousands units.  Here the total cost of ownership, web server connectivity (over and above PC and handheld connectivity), network management, asset management (assets being devices, peripherals, software licenses and custom applications downloaded into devices) and software distribution capabilities are more important issues. Do not ignore these issues.

Please note that handheld devices may be used as secondary devices with your desktop device as the primary device. In this case, you have to consider logically connectivity to your desktop and synchronization of personal information is a more difficult issue.

Methodology for Device Selection

  • Start with a functional requirements analysis. Find out which functions are most important to your organization or to you as a profession. No single device can handle all functions optimally - therefore, there will be tradeoffs. If e-mail is the most important functions, devices like RIM's Blackberry may score high. If field data collection is more important, it may be a Pocket PC like Compaq's iPaq.

  • Determine the % of time your mobile professionals/workers  spend in the field.You may have to give different devices to different class of workers.

  • Determine whether it is the handheld device or your notebook that is primary device.

  • Create a short list of devices in consultation with representatives of real users e.g. Blackberry 957, Compaq's iPaq 3650, a notebook and Palm IIIxe. Smart phones may not be appropriate for many enterprise heavy-duty applications. You can still use smart phones as personal organizers and e-mail alert devices. 

  • Develop prototype applications and let real users (not just programmers) test these out.

  • Field trial.

  • Develop a list of device features (size, weight, form factor, memory, etc) and factors (method of input, application development tools, security, wireless support, device management, etc.) that you must consider. Assign weights to each factor - higher to the most important ones. Let an unbiased group assign score to different devices.

  • Allow for user training and settling in period - most new users react to a new device and new method of doing business in a negative fashion. Allow changeover time (3 months).

  • Remember these devices are both personal and corporate information devices. Some of the PDA data is only marginally connected with corporate or enterprise applications. Ensure that only corporate or shared data with other members of a workgroup is synchronized. Develop scripts for synchronization in such a way that unnecessary  personal information (address books, etc) may get synchronized.  This will be cheaper economically as well especially on wireless network where bandwidth is expensive.

  • Do not wait for the ultimate device to come into the market. Take advantage of the productivity gains today. Plan for upgrade in 18-36 months in this evolving market for handheld devices.

Issues at a Glance

  • Which OS devices should we select - PalmOS, windows CE/PocketPC, Blackberry, EPOC or others?

  • Which form factor should we choose - based on how the users intend to carry the device - in coat pocket, carry it in the briefcase or tool holder?

  • How much memory and processor (if choice is available) and which peripherals?

  • Which method of input - handwriting recognition, speech recognition (albeit, in future), keyboard, or pen?

  • Do we need wireless card for this application or can we just use synchronization from a PC?

  • Do we need Bluetooth enablement of these devices today?

  • Can we lay the law and standardize on one device across the organization or at least in department?

Related Resources:
Principles for Matching Devices & Mobile Applications


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