Pervasive technology

With the latest range of next generation integrated mobile technologies entering the channel, it would seem the dreams of workers on the move are about to come true, but are the promises too good to be true?

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By  Paul Barthram Published  March 30, 2003

I Pervasive technology|~||~||~|With many manufacturers now launching a range of next generation integrated mobile technologies including camera phones, and wireless PDAs, it would seem the promises of revolutionary business practices with workers on the move are about to come true, but is it really time to start waving the banners high?
The trend is starting to happen, albeit slowly, as Stuart Maughan, general manager of Palm Middle East believes. “I think it’s just growing the market. It is really only 4-5% of end users that are using a handheld device, whereas 70% of people use a mobile phone. Most people purchase a PDA as an individual but are using it at work. So there is already an argument whether the product is actually used as an enterprise unit, even though it is sold via retail. Some of the research that we’ve done has shown 70-80% of users are synchronising their data for work purposes. This has led to a lot of organisations looking at ways they can utilise the installed base with people who’ve purchased a Palm but actually get them to use more information.”
Gabriel Sjogren, product manager for Sony Ericsson, believes the Middle East is ready and has accepted the influx of new technology, but the key is understanding enterprise needs.
“We try very much to work with our distributors and try to support them on that,” said Sjogren, “because with a lot of these [phones] you really need to get into discussions with the companies in order to find solutions for them, but I think the real benefit will come from the discussion about their real business processes and about what they can and cannot do.”
So do these items actually hold any worth to the end user in the working world? In simple functionality the answer is yes, as it is now possible for most end users to purchase the platforms with applications such as Word, Excel, Fax, email and Internet browsing. However unless the company maintains its operating business on the net, the devices won’t really make an impact on an end user’s business life until they start thinking about third party software solutions.
Web sites such as sonyericsson.com and softwaremarket.com might offer an end user secure capabilities for online banking, but for the user to gain specialist secured applications to link to their company server the end user needs the company to be open to the new technology, and see the financial benefits of it.
||**||II The software solution|~||~||~|
The logistics of adding additional software to realise the potential of the platform might seem cumbersome, but this certainly hasn’t hurt sales. In some ways it’s increased them, as Linda Al-Tarifi, marketing manager for Aptec provider of mobile phones distributor explained. “We had a promotion where Nokia collaborated with softwaremarket.com… [The idea] was if you were to buy one of the phones you could download two software packages to the value of $50. As a result of that promotion we saw our sales quadrupled week-on-week .”
One of Nokia’s software successes was the Mutarjim software that allows for English-Arabic translation, a simple yet useful tool, which Al-Tarifi believes, is not well represented in the mobile technologies market.
“Something the rest of the world usually ignores is the amount of Arabic speaking people that use the phone. The 9200 series sold the most in the Middle East [due to Mutarjim]; it was not as popular in Europe; it was not as popular in the States. Its popularity was basically in the Middle East but people fail to see this was a function of the software as well as the handset,” she stated.
It is an area Microsoft has recently addressed with its combined partner launch of the Carrier Devices’ Arabic-enabled iMate Smartphone, and it would seem resellers being open to the specific needs of their customers will be the main advantage point, when it comes to continued sales of pervasive computing.
Sjogren, speaking about the recently launched Sony Ericsson P800—a combined camera and handheld PC unit—agrees. “Of course there are companies that are looking for functions more specifically. With a camera functionality for example the fact you can take a picture and draw on that picture and then send it on can be extremely advantageous. Emirates Airlines are thinking of giving all their pilots a camera phone, because when they need to report back [minor repairs] at the moment, they do a manual drawing and fax it, so now they’re looking at something where they can instantly take a picture and draw on it.”
Palm also sees further potential with the new technologies coming to the region. “Already in Europe you’ve got sales people from Porsche and BMW using an application to sell to a customer while they’re sitting in a car on the forecourt,” Maughan said. “It allows them to quote the customer exactly the specification, the lease, and the stock, while he’s sitting inside the car. Instantly they’ve been able to get an answer back from the server. So you’ve got the customer right there while he’s still excited rather than going back to your PC and putting them through an endless wait of whether his specification is in stock… it’s that sort of technology, which starts to differentiate companies.”
The power of pervasive computing is as such that even sales representatives, can make sales and keep track of supplies while on the move.
||**||III A wireless world|~||~||~|
HP vendors of the iPaq, have been working to develop such a system, as category manager Thomas Greve explains. “We have for instance been working with a number of pharmaceutical companies on a sales force automisation. So instead of having the sales rep writing things down on paper, coming home at night and updating on to his notebook, they’ve actually been able to do their job with an iPaq and a specialist application for their particular field. So they’d go into a doctors’ surgery say and take note of what drugs he needs to order next week, and what information they’ve given the doctor. They’d then update that information on their corporate server later on in the day, or they would wire by connecting to a Bluetooth phone and update to the server via a telephone network.”
The use of Bluetooth enabled devices has gone some way to making the user in the Middle East wirelessly connected, but users are still restricted. Palm and HP are only now releasing their own GPRS enabled devices, with the Tungsten W, and iPaq 5450 released into the market this year.
Maughan feels however, the current range of competing integrated pervasive devices from mobile phone suppliers have a long way to go before they can satisfy a customer. “I’ve seen and used some of the mobile phones you can get now, which are Pocket PC-based, and quite honestly you might be very put off after using some of these devices in that category. You might buy one, and think that it is difficult to use, or that the battery life isn’t very good. The result is you might not buy one of these devices ever again.”
A more pressing concern is the connectivity of the wireless phone. Most advanced products will now work on GPRS but concern lies with how quickly the service provider will roll out the sort of 802.11b hotspots, that will allow users to be truly wireless, without having to worry about connection speeds back to their server.
The possibility of videoconferencing over one of the devices for instance is not entirely possible in certain territories until service providers start rolling out an MMS service. It’s a problem, which also means sending picture messaging mobile to mobile is not possible at the moment, and could disappoint customers.
Al-Tarifi believes it will lead to further delays for products. “Until the service is available there’s no point marketing it. If we started advertising and telling people these are the services you can get out of this phone—but guess what—the service is not available yet from the service provider, they will get discouraged.”
It’s not something that Al-Tarifi sees as harming sales though. “They will buy it for aesthetic purposes, and at the end of the day they can write a message, answer the phone, take a picture even if they’re not going to send it to anyone other than via email.”
The delay of the enhanced wireless services may benefit the vendors of truly pervasive, wearable PCs. Xybernaut, a vendor of wearable PCs intended for use in maintenance and engineering environments believes its products can find a market in Middle East industries where having hands free technology is essential.
||**||IV Education is the key|~||~||~|
Neo Neophytou consultant for Adaox, Xybernaut’s regional development partner believes the products are more specialised than a simple PDA or mobile phone, and are not dependant on the service providers. “We didn’t go through an analysis of whether WiFi communication would help the success of Xybernaut,” he said. “What we have done, is identify the market sectors where the need for a wearable computer is paramount. This is where Xybernaut start looking at the market from, and not whether mobile telecommunication is in place.”
Although enhancements by Etisalat will obviously help drive sales, and increase the functionality of pervasive computing in the UAE, from Xybernaut’s example it is clear that the channel will increase sales further if it is more proactive in identifying the customer requirements, and matching them to the right third-party solutions provider. So does the responsibility lie now with the end user or the platform provider? Would a more aggressive marketing stance help for instance?
“Yes, I believe so,” agreed Maughan. “In more developed markets, we actually have enterprise sales people who are going to customers and pushing solutions directl—because there are a lot of off the shelf packages, more than 5,000 applications have been written for Palm.”
Al-Tarifi believes it’s a matter of educating the customer better. “Not all customers know what to do with them. You’ll find a lot of people buying the wrong phones. Our sales team is usually trained to ask ‘What do you require from your phone?’ And they have been extensively trained by an external company just to know how to ask questions, and understand what the real requirement of a customer is,” she said.
She is not alone in believing this is the case, Sjogren believes it may involve some persuasive selling as well. “It will be the change of mindset, of breaking the way you work today,” said Sjogren. “It’s about letting go of the way you do things today and trying to think differently. This is the biggest barrier because the technology is in place, the infrastructure is in place so it’s just a question of everyone realising what they can really do with it.”
||**||V Ready to wear|~||~||~|
Xybernaut, currently looking for channel partners in the Middle East, believes it has a different approach to mobile computing that to the PDA/mobile phone competition.
“Xybernaut is a different way of bringing to specific industries the power of a PC, but in a wearable form where you can have your hands free in order to do your work,” explained Neo Neophytou of Xybernaut’s channel development partner Adaox.
So what is the Xybernaut strategy when looking for a partner in the channel?
“We’re now in the qualification stage of looking at the right partners in the area. They’ll need firstly knowledge of data collection or the mobile industry. Secondly they will need to have an industry understanding of how the oil or the airline or the military needs are working,” he explained.
Clients of Xybernaut already include utility, telecommunication, and oil sectors and in some cases military contracts. It has 700 patents for its wearable technology today, and has been the leader in its field for over ten years. Neophytou feels Xybernaut have a unique product that will do well in its niche segment:
“Some maintenance today uses conventional computing or data collection to do the same job. What we are offering is an alternative and more productive way for say checking the parameters of an aeroplane. Instead of collecting data and then having to return to a computer to do the calculations, with a Xybernaut wearable computer you can do this on spot while working on your actual task. It’s not being sold as a replacement for the traditional mobile workers, its targeting specific sectors in order to serve a solution.”

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