"If you want to have real ROI and success deploying the technology, e-mail is not the mechanism," asserts Dennis Gaughan, a research director at AMR Research. You need enterprise software to make mobile workers more productive, he says, although up until now the action has mainly been in vertical applications.
Palm devices, of course, have long been surrounded by a vibrant development community, with the applications primarily commercial and focused on stand-alone clients. "Quite frankly, up until we got to the latest version, Cobalt, even though we put good fundamentals in place, gaps were filled by third parties and licensees," says John Cook, product marketing manager at PalmSource, the software company resulting from the Palm breakup. "You had to be more of a systems integrator if you were trying to build more enterprise apps on Palm OS devices."
Cobalt will feature a licensed version of IBM's WebSphere MicroEnvironment, a J2ME run-time environment, although the new operating systems will also run apps written for previous Palm OS versions. Palm has also joined the Eclipse Java development organization and has licensed the WebSphere Studio Device Developer toolset for integration into the Palm OS platform. And unlike previous versions of the Palm OS, Cobalt will support schema-based databases. PalmSource is "trying to do more enablement for the developer community," Cook says.
Whether or not customers embrace Cobalt as an enterprise development platform, RIM appears less likely to extend much beyond e-mail in the foreseeable future, according to Gartner's Kort. The development environment uses a proprietary flavor of J2ME that requires a learning curve few enterprise developers are likely to climb in order to build apps for BlackBerrys alone. "RIM is a nightmare to develop for," Kort says. "Gartner actually recommends that enterprises not develop for that platform."
By contrast, Microsoft's efforts to integrate mobile devices into .Net development have already paid off. Enterprises are developing more apps for the Pocket PC platform than any other. Warren Wilson, a practice director at Summit Strategies, says Microsoft understands that development for mobile devices should "be a seamless part of the app-dev process." In other words, developers can port their general Windows development work into mobile apps.
Microsoft's Suwanjindar touts the company's .Net Compact Framework, which has 12 controls for mobile devices, including screen size, rendering, and menus. "It's really efficient to transfer a Windows desktop application, optimized for a small footprint," he says. Visual Studio 2005, due out next year, will make targeting small devices even easier. "It's our intent," Suwanjindar says, "that mobile development will just be development."
Learning From Experience
Until recently, enterprise mobile application development has tended to be narrowly targeted -- to specific devices and to specific applications in such areas as field service, sales-force automation, medicine, and retail delivery. Faced with slow, erratic, expensive wireless connections, enterprises have frequently opted for wire-line synchronization instead. The introduction of so-called 2.5G services such as GPRS and CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) 1X has at least brought transfer rates up to dial-up speeds, but coverage is still spotty and the airtime costs remain high.