Caution: Mobile Content at Work

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This sentiment is echoed by Michael Buhr, senior director of business and enterprise marketing at Palm—makers of the OS almost synonymous with mobile. He says, "The handheld market is still pretty tiny in the grand scheme of things. It is a $12 million a year market, where cell phones are a $400 million market." Buhr thinks the not-delivered-upon promise of wireless has actually tainted the image of mobile. He says, "Wireless coverage in the U.S is fraught with errors. Until you have ubiquitous coverage," says Buhr, "you will have complaints." Not surprisingly, Palm's large deployments are not wireless, though Buhr believes that will change in the future as the market matures.

Summus' Fox sees Wi-Fi as a mixed blessing saying, "People can get confused because Wi-Fi today is not actually a mobile phenomenon; it is a laptop or PDA thing; it's not on phones. But," Fox says, "there's such a need for that type of service, I wouldn't be surprised if it eventually catches on. Wi-Fi provides another way to extend communication."

"I think that one of the misunderstandings people have is that business within the mobile enterprise equals wireless," says Buhr. "I have a stack of success stories, the majority of which are not wireless," he continues. "They are the equivalent of: I have a paper-based process and have converted it to digital through a handheld."

But T-Mobile believes that Wi-Fi is the wave of the future. With its much ballyhooed Starbuck's deal, which put T-Mobile hotspots in coffee shops nationwide last September, followed by similar hotspot partnerships with Kinkos copy shops and Borders Bookstores, they are heavily invested in the belief that Wi-Fi will appeal to mobile workers. According to company spokesperson, Brian Zidar, "Our focus is absolutely the mobile worker…someone that goes from appointment to appointment in town and pops into a Starbucks and can download a PowerPoint and check their email and alerts… eventually you will see an increase in consumer users, but right now we focus on business professions."

West is cautious about Wi-Fi, despite success in content targeted at the mobile needs of the legal profession. West's Senden says, "T-Mobile and such deals help, but consumers lose faith if you go to a Starbucks and it doesn't work. It would also help if coverage was more universal or even if you had roaming charges. If you have constant coverage, it's more worth it for people to develop."

Ojas Rege, senior director of product management at AvantGo believes that waiting for Wi-Fi would be a mistake for content providers wanting to reach the mobile worker. He says, "It's our belief that you need smart client architecture that works when connected and when you are not. Wireless," says Rege, "is just one connectivity method that is often confused with mobility." Other than for email and remote Internet access, Rege believes that currently, "Wireless is only really relevant in the enterprise for field service applications and invoicing. We find most customers on the mobile side are deploying the content to their users a couple of times a day—syncing like they would a laptop. Mobile is the key and wireless is just one connectivity mechanism."

No matter how you slice it, Rege sees ample room for growth in the mobile enterprise—right now. And—boasting 2,500 clients worldwide including 38 of the Fortune 100 (combined with iAnywhere, acquisition, more than 70 of the Fortune 100)—AvantGo has reason for optimism. Like Summus, AvantGo takes a two-pronged approach to business.

On the consumer side, if a content company wants to reach AvantGo's consumers, they pay AvantGo to be part of its MyAvantGo distribution channel. The company claims "more than 2,500 channels of content and over 8 million registered users." Major media companies such as The New York Times, Reuters, CNN, CBS MarketWatch, and BusinessWeek, use the AvantGo service to extend their brand to a mobile environment, acquire new subscribers/viewers, and create new advertising revenue streams. The other aspect of its consumer offering allows companies like American Airlines, Bank of America, and Microsoft to advertise, drive direct marketing or brand marketing objectives, and/or extend Web content and CRM strategies to mobile devices and to reach an appealing demographic, which AvantGo describes as, "predominately young, affluent, educated males between the ages of 25-50."

AvantGo charges a channel service fee for reporting (page view tracking, unique visitor tracking, and ad tracking) and circulation development services that are provided to develop and manage the media customer's mobile channel. Within the next year, the company plans to include ad-serving services as well.

"On the enterprise side," Rege says, "AvantGo sells software. A company buys our software, installs it, and pays us for it." He says, "I know some people are trying to provide mobile content services to the enterprise," but he has found that "most enterprises are interested in mobilizing internal content like catalogs or CRM systems." According to Rege, "People look at content quite differently…content is more bi-directional. There is a different usage model for mobility." In his experience, some of the big areas for mobile information in the workforce are sales force automation, CRM, and the medical industry. AvantGo has also had some take-up in government.

Palm focuses on healthcare, state, local, and federal government—especially emergency services, according to Buhr. And like Senden at West, he also sees education driving the mobile content market, specifically at the college and university level where faculty and students get access to information without implementing new infrastructure.

Charlie Segal, head of corporate sales at the Financial Times, says "I think the business community is still unaware of the possibilities." While he believes "content is an important space," he points out that content "isn't something Wireless carriers have dealt with on a day to day basis and publishers need a business model that works."

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