Microsoft's new Unified Communications application platform can be used by developers to build VoIP applications on dual-mode smartphones. And on the device side, a growing number of handheld devices have built-in GPS, and this is beginning to drive a new crop of location- based mobile applications.
Some ISVs who provide tools for building mobile applications say there's a lot going on in the background.
Sanjay Shirole is president and CEO of a mobile ISV called Xora, which has tens of thousands of SMB (small and medium business) customers. A few large enterprises are beginning to adopt his location-based application. He has sold his software to the largest beverage distributor in the world and recently inked a deal with the City of Chicago to track the location of 3,000 workers.
"Web 2.0 is eliminating the barrier to entry for customers from a financial and maintenance standpoint," he said, expressing relief that his application was not responsible for the New York City taxi strike that slowed down Interop travelers on Monday. "The cost has come down substantially with the software-as-a-service on demand model because customers don't have to have anything installed on premise."
And he believes fear about Big Brother will subside as workforces are educated about the benefits of such mobile application.
Timothy Jasionowski, a senior technologist in Nokia's Enterprise Solutions, says insurance companies and real estate firms are beginning to integrate location-based services with established business processes. This helps to speed up claims and automate the process of listing and removing properties on the MLS. Shipping companies with large warehouses are using RFID tags and VoIP on their PDAs to get rid of mobile phones, he added.
Some customers might be waiting for the inevitable shake-out among platform vendors, but that should have no bearing on ISVs - because the standards for tools are there today. He predicts there will soon be a list of devices that support mobile Java, HTML and Ajax so that applications can be more broadly deployed across corporations.
"When you get to the point where you can build an application and get it to run on several devices, that's when you'll see enterprises paying for mobile applications," said Jasionowski.
"There are a lot of opportunities to take navigation and location-based services and mash it up with other business processes."
One executive at Motorola said there is common misperception that web-based applications can be easily ported to smaller devices. This simply ain't so. Unique requirements and usage scenarios and unique constraints – such as display size – requires innovative new applications.
Apple's toolkit is good for the Macintosh environment yet it's likely to bump other manufacturers and platform providers into action on the ISV front. "It's a pretty cool device SDK for building web-based applications for Safari but that won't cut it for the enterprise, said Ben Wesson, a senior director of product management at Dexterra.
It's not clear why ISVs are dragging their feet because demand is there. The majority of business execs would love to fire up their handheld and get inventory updates – without lengthy PC bootup times and 20-click journey to the right data, one Mobile Expo attendee said.
"We have a long way to go, especially from the handheld, applications are sorely lacking," said Greg Bentham, an information architect at EDS who was at the conference. "I don't think people are raising enough hell about it." ®