Has the Mobile Web Arrived?

You can’t blame CIOs for their skepticism around the first iPhone launch. Sure, Apple’s marketing prowess left just about everyone wanting one, but Apple was clearly gunning for the consumer market.

For IT executives, there was little excitement–a closed network, no outside applications, etc. If anything, there was stress, specifically in explaining to their Apple-loving employees why they couldn’t support the new darling of the mobile world.

Apple’s now back with a smaller, badder version of the revolutionary device, putting the state of enterprise mobility under a new spotlight. The early returns? The mobile Web has arrived–sort of.

More mobility means better productivity and customer service, according to CIO Insight‘s May research report on mobility. And though most respondents said they don’t view full- or part-time telecommuting any differently than they did three years ago, a considerable number expressed optimism about increasing remote working capabilities.

For that to happen, the true potential of the mobile Web must come to fruition. The new iPhone shows us just how far mobility has come–but also how far it has to go.

First, more than a handful of strong competitors are already in the game: Google, Microsoft, Palm, Research in Motion and Symbian all offer operating systems for mobile devices. “The fighting now is over what will become the dominant platform for mobile computing,” Saul Hansell blogged on NYTimes.com. Until the clear winners emerge–or consolidation occurs–IT shops will have to grapple with varied vendor choices and muddled support options.

Second, like any developing technology, growing pains persist. While Gartner Research Vice President Bill Clark calls the iPhone a “game changer,” he notes that the device lacks strong password protection and a relatively weak battery–a problem faced by all smart-phone makers.

Then there’s the view of Harvard Law professor and tech guru Jonathan Zittrain, author of The Future of the Internet–And How to Stop It, who thinks that some popular Web innovations suppress the innovative energy that nurtured the Internet’s development. He warns of the dangers posed by closed devices like the iPhone, as well as walled gardens like Facebook.

“I don’t blame CIOs; it’s a best practice to keep the network locked down pretty thoroughly if there’s anything sensitive on it,” Zittrain told CIO Insight recently. “It’s totally understandable, but it’s also unfortunate.”

But Gartner’s Clark sees businesses looking for more ways to utilize mobile technologies. Financial institutions, for instance, want to capitalize on advances in browser navigation to extend online banking to mobile devices. Car companies see smart phones as a customer relationship tool, allowing them to interact with customers on and off the lot.

Standing in the way, however, is the challenge of managing it all. Clark says companies can support these mobile devices in three different ways: by supporting them broadly, as an appliance; by treating them as a platform, where they would guarantee that applications can run; or by supporting them through one-off special implementations, “with a lot of care and feeding.”

Though the first iPhone was a non-starter for IT, the new version, with more third-party software access, moves it into the third category of support strategies. Plus, Clark says Gartner expects that some top mobile device managers will fill in some of the gaps in the new iPhone.

The mobile Web clearly has a way to go. But the advances made by the iPhone and its competitors show that the future is almost here.

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