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Issue Date: April 2008

Ultra-mobiles, ultra scarce

1 April 2008

Ultra-mobile devices are fantastic to look and play with, but it will take some time before they make an impact on business.
Apple's new Air has focused the world on a sort-of new idea, ultra-mobile computing. The idea is that a UM device will offer all the functionality of a laptop, along with access to all work documents and spreadsheets, but because it is slightly larger than a mobile phone it will be easier for users to view and interact with these documents.
Most importantly, these devices are supposed to be small enough to carry around all day without the hassles associated with a laptop. And they are supposed to incorporate the best functionality of the mobile phone and the laptop while being greener and less power hungry. The Asus eee is a great example of this, if you can find one.
Experience has taught us that UM devices are like hen's teeth in South Africa. And, sadly, they are also far more expensive than all but the best-equipped laptops.
CBR asked Ashley de Klerk, COO of DVT and Nadia Hufkie, PSG country category manager at HP SA what the next step in mobility is for business. Will UM devices mature to become a force in business computing?
CBR: Are UM devices going to take off in South Africa?
Ashley de Klerk: Independent surveys such as a recent one quoted from Dun and Bradstreet, suggest that mobile workers are on the rise in South Africa. According to this survey, there are corporate standards and policies in place at 62% of South Africa's companies for mobile usage. One of the biggest hurdles still is the relatively high cost of bandwidth in South Africa. This will limit the uptake of mobile devices regardless of the type of device. It will, however, definitely feature high on companies' priorities as they look to counter the threat on productivity that blackouts represent.
Ashley de Klerk, COO of DVT
Ashley de Klerk, COO of DVT
Nadia Hufkie: UM devices cater for a very specific niche, eg, the student/scholar market that requires an ultra-mobile device with tablet functionality. The size of these devices means that users cannot expect the same battery life as standard size notebooks - battery life is the price that a user has to pay for ultra portability. Standard size notebooks are therefore still a better option from a battery life perspective. Within the corporate and enterprise market, businesses are not likely to standardise on form factors that are smaller than 12-inch.
Nadia Hufkie, PSG country category manager at HP SA
Nadia Hufkie, PSG country category manager at HP SA
CBR: What UM devices are available, or which ones will be available soon, if any?
Ashley de Klerk: There are a number of mobile devices available on the market today. Just looking at how cellphone technology has developed over recent years, with the advances made in the area of smartphones, PDAs and other devices, it is possible to stay connected anywhere at any time. There is a plethora of devices and technology to choose from today that gives you access to your work documents, and that gives you the same or similar productivity that your laptop gives you. The technology is improving at a fast pace - an example is the work that Nokia is doing with the Morph].
CBR: What should companies be looking for in UM devices?
Ashley de Klerk: I think it is less about the type of device and more about the type of applications running on the device, whether the user experience is the same or similar to the end-user than what they experience when sitting behind a desk in the office: that is what is important. The next issue to take into consideration is security. How do organisations ensure sensitive information is protected from falling into the wrong hands? Companies will have to work out how they protect data that is in the hands of an increasingly mobile workforce. A whole new management challenge in itself.
Nadia Hufkie: Businesses should evaluate the following factors: weight, battery life, security and processing power.
CBR: What should business be looking for when considering mobility and power efficiency? Is it UM devices or are we still looking at laptop computers?
Ashley de Klerk: Laptops represent the best fit of utility and mobility. However, UM devices have the edge when it comes to ultra portability. Both devices have their place, which probably means we will start seeing hybrid devices that represent the best of both worlds.
Nadia Hufkie: Businesses are still looking at laptops - the market for UM devices is very niche. At present, UM devices do not deliver the processing power and speeds that users can expect from standard sized notebooks. Corporate and enterprise customers have largely standardised on 15-inch notebooks and considerations such as security and manageability are key factors when purchasing decisions are made.
We are not likely to see a large-scale corporate uptake of UM devices in the near future.

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