Smartphone Follies

If you man the support desk, or are the accidental techie for an org of ten or more people, chances are that you get a lot of questions about smartphones. And these generally aren't the "what should I get?" questions as often as they're the "how do I get my email and schedule on my new [Blackberry/Iphone/Treo/Razr/MotoQ/Sidekick/Android Dream]?". If the state of computing technology were akin to smartphones, you'd have Commodore, Leading Edge, IBM, and Apple computers, along with IBM Selectric typewriters to support, all running different operating systems and different applications. It's somewhat insane.

So how can you politely impose some sanity on the smartphone madness? People love THEIR devices; the choice of an Iphone vs a Blackberry is as heated as any political debate. But there are some commons sense arguments that IT can make for a modicum of standardization, without totally denying your users some choice.

It all boils down to email. While smartphones feature a range of operating systems, email platforms tend to support cross-smartphone access. So what's your email system?

Microsoft Exchange includes ActiveSync. If you run an Exchange server, ActiveSync-capable smartphones can connect directly and wirelessly to it, providing contact, calendar, email and (on some phones) task synchronization. Any Windows Mobile phone includes Activesync, as well as Palm Treos and the newest iPhones (version 2 and above). Exchange 2007 also includes handy features like remote device wipes and access to network shares.

Google Apps/GMailGoogle makes a GMail for Mobile application that works on most smartphones capable of running java applications, which includes all of the major variants (Windows Mobile, Blackberry, iPhone and Palm).

If you don't use GMail or have an Exchange server (you either run Outlook or Outlook Express without your own server, or you use a different system), Blackberries offer the ubiquitous solution. RIM, the company that makes them, runs their own server that can act as a gateway for your email service and forward the mail to your phone. Before Microsoft figured out how to support mobiles, this was a sweet, revolutionary offering, but my take is that, compared to Exchange/Activesync, it's now a bit of a kludge. If you use Blackberries with Exchange, you can increase functionality by buying their Exchange add-in server, but that's a significant investment that you're not likely to make without a large fleet of phones. In the meantime, though, here's a tip: when you set up that Blackberry to access Exchange, pick Outlook WebAccess, not Outlook (assuming you also run Webaccess). The integration through Webaccess updates the server when you read messages on the phone; the vanilla Outlook integration doesn't. Outlook should be chosen when you don't offer WebAccess with Exchange.

At my job, we have Exchange and a smartphone policy that states that we support Activesync, as opposed to any particular device. We recommend that our users get Treos or iPhones, because we like them, but don't complain if they get Wings or MotoQ's or whatever, because Activesync works the same way on any Windows Mobile device. The staff appreciates the guidance and flexibility; we enjoy the reduced time figuring every new phone out.


Thomas - thanks for that info

Thomas - thanks for that info - I wasn't aware of an alternative to the $3k Blackberry server. My prior gig was an acting CIO position for a large nonprofit where I lost the same battle, and ended up deploying the BB server. That wasn't bad, but since it still depended on RIM's Gateway server, it was still more complex than the Exchange/Activesync route.

While I agree wholeheartedly

While I agree wholeheartedly that standardizing on ActiveSync is the way to go with Exchange, I lost that argument with our CEO who wanted to stick with Blackberry, which she'd had before we had Exchange 2003 (and thus ActiveSync). What makes that tolerable is that RIM has a free, scaled-back version of Blackberry Enterprise Server, Blackberry Professional Software Express that comes with a single user license; additional user licenses are $99, and this edition supports up to 30 users. If you've got Blackberry users, an Exchange server and some technical chops, this is highly preferable to the desktop-based synch, and supports real-time, over-the-air synchronization of mail, contacts, calendar and tasks, without a significant financial investment. It consumes some hardware resources, and support is extra and pricey (I've forgone it and just muddled through), but I've got two users and am about to add a third, alongside two ActiveSync users, and it works fine. Though certainly learning and maintaining two systems is less-than-optimal.

Agreed, John. It's a complex

Agreed, John. It's a complex topic that I might have boiled down too simply. But one of the advantages of saying "we'll support a range of devices that adhere to an email standard" as opposed to "we'll support a device" is that Sprint, Verizon, AT&T; and T-Mobile all cell WinMo, Java-capable and Blackberry devices. They don't all sell the same ones. So you can get the one with service at your summer home while still adhering to the company's email standards, to a large extent.

Nice post Peter, but I'd

Nice post Peter, but I'd argue that it boils down to 3 things 1) Network coverage by your cell provider 2) Quality of a voice / phone call on the PDA - after all, it's a phone 1st 3) email - which needs to be aligned with a corp or org's infrastructure