Corporate Mobile Thoughts

The other day I lamented the apparent lack of support for corporate developers from those in the Symbian camp. Nokia gives some lip service to it, but in general it seems that the manufacturers and Symbian itself are focused much more on the consumer market than the needs of the mobile corporate developer or user.

But it just dawned on me that this may not be all that important to Symbian. Look at this quote in today's Computer Business Review:

Symbian VP communications, Peter Bancroft, is confident the company remains on track to meet its internal targets, with products from 26 Symbian-based devices from nine licensees currently in development, in addition to the 10 products (some of which are variants) already on the market.

"When [CEO] David Levin started he was looking at one billion units a year. the first target we reached was a million in a year, the next is target is a million a month and once we reach a million a week it starts to get interesting," said Bancroft.

If Symbian can achieve these aims, royalty revenue alone could rise to over $500m, extrapolating from its current figures. What is more, margins can be expected to be high.

One *billion* units per year. Wow. I'm not sure if that's realisticly attainable within the next few years, but you can see that Symbian is really aiming to be the Microsoft of mobile OSes. A billion phones per year would be just about every phone made, no? They want to be *everywhere*.

So that seems to be the crux Symbian's business plan: Volume. Whereas Microsoft has a ecosystem of products that revolve around their OS and products, Symbian only produces the OS - and even that's sold in pieces. They care about getting more phones shipped, not where they are shipped to. And thinking about it, there really isn't the proverbial "lucrative corporate market" for most mobiles is there? Phones are phones and Symbian gets its $7.50 whether the OS is in a $100 consumer model or a high-end $900 executive model.

This seems to be a very different way of thinking about things. Unlike the PC world where the corporate market leads purchases of both hardware, software and OSes, it's going to take a *massive* change in mentality for the corporate world to start doing the same in the mobile world. Think about it. What corporation nowadays would hire someone and not give them a computer? Even if you're talking about a retailer like Wal-Mart, the cashiers need computes, the managers need computers, the stock guys need to update computers, etc. There's at least one computer per several people. Any other type of business which has a lot of knowledge workers need at least one, and many times more computers per person (laptop for travel, etc.).

Now, think about how many corporations hire people and automatically give them mobile phones. Very, very few. I bet you that even Nokia's or SonyEricsson's employees don't all have mobiles. And their phone bills probably aren't paid for as well (like our Internet connections are paid for inside the corporate walls). It's going to take a massive shift in thinking before this is the case.

So back to that billion number. Microsoft is trying to make headway into the corporations, making all of its products work somewhat seamlessly, its user interface similar and all its APIs accessible to the corporate developers. Palm is sorta trying to do similar things (though less successfully - until you can centrally update Palm software, it'll go nowhere in big corps IMHO). Even if these guys get this market and split it up evenly between them over the next few years, we're talking what? 100 million users? This number is nothing compared to the billion(s) of consumers out there buying mobiles. All giving Symbian $7.50 apiece.

Anyways, like I said before, it's a shame that MS even has the opportunity to do this. It's an entry into the mobile market they shouldn't have, and you know Microsoft - they'll use it to their maximum advantage. Right now developing for the any of the four mobile OSes (SymbianOS, Linux, PalmOS or Windows Mobile) requires C coding and a decent level of expertise in programming for low-powered devices (though Symbian development is known for its peculiar level of magic.) I'm not a C programmer, nor are most of the corporate developers out there. We're Java programmers or VB programmers. Most with a technical level far below what's needed to be productive developing for any of the mobile devices out there.

But if there's any doubt this will be changing, just take a look at's website. The first three menu options are: Windows, Office, Mobile Devices, in that order. Even though Windows Mobile 2003 still sucks, and is slow and bloated, it's incrementally better than what was there before - and stresses the one thing that corporate buyers are looking for: integration with Outlook/Exchange and Office. So even though the VB crowd can't develop for Windows Mobile right now, Microsoft is doing everything they can to make it as easy as possible for Windows developers to start producing apps. The Microsoft Mobile Development Resource Kit costs only $7.65 and includes eMbedded Visual C++ and all the various SDKs, documentation and white papers you need to get started. It's an incredible bundle that Symbian or Palm just doesn't match, both needing a full version of VC++ or CodeWarrior to develop for, both costing hundreds of dollars.

So the only hope in the corporate market is for the CEO to buy a gee-whiz Symbian gadget and decide that everyone needs to standardize on that. Otherwise the Windows drones are going to go up to the head office and say "Look! It's Windows! But on your phone! And we can develop for it cheap - hell it's part of the MSDN subscription we already have!" and that will be the end of Symbian inside the corporate market.

So anyways, like I said, I don't know if this matters. Microsoft can have all the corporate drones it wants while Symbian goes on to run all the rest of the mobiles out there. But that's a dangerous place for Microsoft to be... Better for Symbian to just suck the air-supply out of the corporate market all together instead.

It should be a Symbian mantra: "Remember Apple, Lotus and Netscape!" Every Symbian manager should say it three times before they go to sleep at night.


Update: Some more research on the MS front thanks to teeb's comments and it looks like the next generation of Smartphones based on Windows Mobile 2003 are going to have the .Net Compact Framework installed. This will allow apps written in .Net languages like C# and VB.Net to run on the Smartphones (and PocketPCs). This is sort of like combining the best of Java with the Symbian OS and puts Microsoft waaaaay out in front in terms of ease of development for mobile devices. Very interesting. Windows Mobile 2003 is Microsoft's 2nd attempt at getting a Smartphone right. Everyone knows what happens at version 3, right?

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