No business can afford to stand still and neither can its employees. Your best people shouldn’t be deskbound. They need to be in the field, servicing existing clients and wooing new ones.
Mobile email has solved the problem of being out of the office without being out of the loop. “Push email” technology, pioneered and popularised by the BlackBerry, automatically delivers new messages direct to a smartphone.
// Add other push services for your desktop calendar, task list and address book and your team is ready to roll.
Here is how the five smartphone platforms stack up in the business-mobility stakes. We’ve assumed a small business running Microsoft Exchange Server (also found in the Small Business Server package) with a staff of 10 people who need to be mobile, or a larger business with a similar-size project team.
The same solutions can be applied to hosted email services where a third-party company such as WebCentral handles all your email through its own servers.
It’s a no-brainer that if you’re using Microsoft’s email server, Microsoft’s smartphones are a perfect fit.
Because Exchange Server already includes built-in push technology called ActiveSync, you’re already halfway there.
All Windows Mobile phones contain a mobile version of ActiveSync to create a seamless over-the-air connection for synchronising email inboxes, appointments, to-do items (including those delegated to you by a manager) and address book.
But the Windows Mobile platform is showing its age and the next-gen Windows Phone 7 won’t be out until the year’s end.
In the meantime, our pick of today’s best Windows-based smartphones is HTC’s HD2, available exclusively on Telstra’s Next G network. The HD2 phone doesn’t have a keyboard, which is a drawback for dealing with email, but it has a large 11-centimetre touch-screen and a snazzy user interface that does its best to bury Windows Mobile under the covers.
Apple and Microsoft may be mortal enemies but they also know when it’s time to smoke the peace pipe. Apple licensed Microsoft’s ActiveSync technology and has woven it into the iPhone, so it also supports over-the-air push email, calendar and contacts from an Exchange server.
If your small business is so small you don’t have an Exchange Server, Apple offers its home-baked MobileMe service.
For $119 a year, you get an @me.com email address, with all messages sent to that address pushed to the iPhone – you can also access MobileMe email on a Mac, through Outlook for Windows or any web browser total inbox synchronisation. MobileMe also includes a push-based calendar and address book.
But before you rush out to buy 10 iPhones for your staff, note that Apple will release the new iPhone 4 in Australia this month – so it might be best to cool your heels and pick up either a shiny new iPhone 4 or stick with the current iPhone 3GS model at a reduced price.
Not enamoured of the latest flashy smartphones and want something a little more conventional?
Nokia has licensed ActiveSync for a wide number of handsets, including the popular E-series models such as the E71, E72 and E75, all of which have the keyboards you need for serious mobile messaging. Support for Exchange accounts is baked straight into the phone’s main Nokia Email application.
The Finnish phone supremo has its own Nokia Messaging service, which is pre-installed on all new Nokia smartphones. This is a Nokia-hosted server that provides push email – although only email, no calendar or task list – with just about any email address, from your own Exchange servers to ISPs and even webmail services such as Google and Windows Live Hotmail.
Finally, Nokia’s Ovi Mail has a no-Exchange-needed alternative for mail, calendars, contacts and even instant messaging among a “virtual group” of users.
All smartphones running Google’s latest Android 2.0 operating system include mobile synchronisation for Microsoft Exchange email, calendars and contacts, although some manufacturers have enhanced the open-source OS even further.
The HTC Desire also allows users to set an out-of-office email response and search the company’s Exchange-based directory.
And while Motorola’s Dext and Backflip, launched by Optus, use Android 1.6, Motorola’s slick Motoblur software adds full Exchange push support.
Android is also the natural choice if you’ve adopted a cloud-based strategy rather than relying on an Exchange box sitting in the office corner. You will get push access to Gmail and Google Calendar and can also use the device with the Google Apps suite.
The BlackBerry has always been an expensive solution for small businesses due to its need for dedicated server software.
However, the release in March of the BlackBerry Enterprise Server Express package has now changed all of that.
This free software (it can be obtained from blackberry.com /besexpress) runs on the same physical or virtual server as Microsoft Exchange and includes all the benefits of the built-for-business BlackBerry platform.
This goes beyond the expected degree of email, calendar and contact sync to advanced control, such as the ability to remotely wipe a staffer’s BlackBerry if it’s lost or stolen. Users can also enjoy BlackBerry Messenger for handy real-time chat sessions.