How to select a mobile device – Part #3 (Mobile OS)

Assuming that you have decided to use handhelds in the fields, the next question is usually – what kind of device? What operating system? Rugged or a classic one? One that connects to additional devices such as printers, digital pen etc. or an “all in one” device with touch screen, barcode scanner and even printers?

Android, BlackBerry, iPhone, Windows Mobile, Symbian, webOS, so many options, and each comes with many different form factors it’s really hard to choose.

In this 3rd part of the guide How to select a mobile device I will try to review today’s popular mobile operating systems and the differences between them.

Windows Mobile:

Good old Windows Mobile…

Previously known as PocketPC, built on top of Windows CE, with over 10 years of experience, hundreds of forms factors, models, manufacturers, versions and editions.

From what we have been witnessing in the field so far, Windows Mobile (although completely smashed by the competitors in the consumer market), is still the most popular mobile platform in field service. It’s also the one with the largest number of features rich applications, not the kind of games you play in-between meetings, but the ones you work with all day long.

There is a large number of different form factors and a huge collection of rugged devices running Windows Mobile. The platform supports touch screens, working with styluses (for accurate/drawing stuff), limited finger friendly UI (if required) and integration with popular devices such as printers, barcode scanners, camera’s, RFIDs and more.

Don’t expect too much out of Windows Mobile. It’s not an iPhone, and as much as HTC or Samsung tries to make it look sexy, most of the stuff they make is a cover, an improved shell to a very old platform. Nevertheless, multi-tasking is good, the OS API’s are strong, development is straight forward and this is clearly my preferred option for field service users.

BlackBerry OS:

BlackBerry is already a proven platform. We all love it, it’s comfortable, friendly, the trackball is great. The question is whether it’s robust enough for your requirements. Most BlackBerry devices do not have a touch screen, the keyboard is very small which might be a problem for people with thick fingers, and the variety of applications is still limited. Integration with additional pieces of hardware might sometimes be problematic and development effort is not always short.

Nevertheless, for some organizations – BlackBerry devices can and will be a perfect fit. This is one of the reasons why we have decided to develop ClickMobile for BlackBerry which is already being deployed in the field.

One of the advantages of BlackBerry is that it can be used as a personal device as well, which can reduce costs.

Google Android:

Google’s Android is an emerging force but yet to prove it’s indeed what we all predict it to be (oh, complex sentence…). The question is: isn’t it too soon for Android? Isn’t it a bit risky to select one of the first devices of this young operating system?

It’s enough to follow few of the technology sites to understand the amazing hype around Android. Many device manufacturers, open source, Google are deeply involved, exciting new releases – looks promising.

But for now, I would not recommend on selecting an Android device as it’s still just too early to know what will happen with it in the next 6-12 months.

Apple iPhone OS:

As much as I’m addicted to my iPhone, it really is a limited operating system when it comes to actual work. There are many great applications for iPhone – not just silly simple games, but the lack of multi-tasking is a killer for any kind of productivity one can achieve from his mobile device. When you cannot run more than one application in parallel – it means poor productivity (switching back and forth between apps can really be painful).

On the other hand, for some specific needs, it may be good enough.

Oh, and of course, if improving your employees satisfaction is one of your goals – you better get them those iPhones!

Bottom line – trendy, fancy, but in 95% of the cases – not suitable for field service organizations.

Palm webOS:

There are a lot of Palm fans out there. I’m one of them as well, and when Palm announced their new webOS and the release of the Palm Pre I was very excited.

But, few months have passed since. All the competitors already stole Palm’s synergy concept, and it seems like Palm is alone in the game, fighting monsters such as Google (along with HTC, Motorola, Samsung etc.), Microsoft and Apple, and I think it’s just not strong enough to win this war.

With very little devices available with the new webOS and a small number of applications – the momentum is clearly not with Palm any longer.

I would not recommend on Palm at this stage even though I think they have a lot of advantages over other platforms.

Symbian:

I must admit I am not a Symbian expert nor big fan. With poor existence in the US and a negative momentum all around the globe, Symbian is an old but still dominant mobile OS.

Still, I’m no expect in implementing native applications on Symbian (most of our experience with it is with web based solutions) therefore I cannot recommend on using it in the field.

That’s it for this part of the guide.
Next part will cover miscellaneous topics when picking a PDA or a smartphone device.

Previous parts of this guide:
How to select a mobile device – Part #1 (Keyboard)
How to select a mobile device – Part #2 (Laptops vs. PDA’s)

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