The smartphone that spies, and other surprises

Consumer technology is here to stay in business settings, so how do you safely embrace it?

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The mobile industry needs to embrace the new business usage
Mobile device makers should play a stronger role. Although the devices may have been intended for consumer use, the lines between personal and business have all but disappeared, and device makers should design their wares with that merger in mind. Most don't even think about the business implications, as they consider the devices to be consumer electronics.

That thinking holds everyone back -- look at how the iPhone and iPad leaped into the enterprise once Apple enabled business-class management capabilities, and then consider that they could have made that jump three years earlier had Apple built in such management from the get-go. Google's Android OS still suffers from its avoidance of the business side of its use.

Apple, Google, and the rest should help users, businesses, and governments do the right thing more easily. It's great that iOS and Android let users manage location-information permissions, but they could do a better job in ensuring that individual apps can't act surreptitiously to access location information, personal information on the device, and so on -- in other words, to not be botnets. Device makers need to understand that in many environments -- such as health care and defense -- having 3G connectivity is problematic, so they should offer non-3G models, as Apple does with the iPad. Ditto on cameras, microphones, and GPS.

I realize having a bunch of hardware variations is not realistic, but what if the mobile OS makers had a software switch that could turn these devices on or off as desired? That way, company-purchased devices could come preconfigured with the desired capabilities disabled (and not able to be turned on by users), and employee-purchased devices could be managed via mobile management tools' policies as to whether and when these particular capabilities were enabled. Think of this as the No Spy and No Stalk equivalents of the Airplane Mode software switches that smartphones have to disable radio communications when in flight -- except they could be managed "fleetwide."

The new capabilities of mobile devices can do a lot of good -- and some harm. The modern devices are used in a wide variety of personal and business situations. It's time that they're designed with that heterogeneity in mind, with the nuances of situational control built in from the beginning.

This article, "Dealing with the unexpected as smartphones pervade the workplace," was originally published at Read more of Galen Gruman's Mobile Edge blog and follow the latest developments in mobile technology at

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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