US corporate wireless users defying experts

Industry watchers have long said that the initial growth spurt of wireless development inside the US is not likely to be driven by the same forces driving development in Europe and Asia. Overseas, demand for wireless apps has come primarily from consumers; here, said these analysts, it's all about business.

But does that mean that wireless developers hoping to offer solutions in US enterprise markets can forget about providing a "rich user experience." Are graphics, animation, and color important only to consumer users of wireless technologies in Tokyo? Are small, thoughtfully designed information appliances only a matter of concern for style conscious Parisians?

Not according to new research from analysts at Stamford, CT-based Meta Group, which suggests pretty pictures, not to mention reliable connectivity and convenient form factors, could become very important to business users in this country. Meta researchers found that 80–90 percent of North American corporate users who have purchased WAP enabled phones have abandoned the data capabilities of those phones to use them for voice communications only.

According to the report: "Disillusioned users generally indicated a wholly unsatisfactory experience... with the level of effort required to obtain information exceeding the threshold for perceived value."

According to Meta, limited content, slow networks, high latency times, and generally poor user ergonomics have not met the high user expectations and hype that accompanied WAP-enabled devices when they were first introduced. META does not expect a significant uptake in Internet-connected smart phone utilization until these ergonomic issues are fixed.

META Group expects the future market to move beyond current WAP-enabled phones to encompass various wireless devices that meet enterprise user needs. Users that are communication-centric will choose one of the next-generation smart phones that offer personal digital assistant (PDA)-like functionality built into the phone. Meanwhile, users that are primarily data-centric will choose somewhat larger and more costly devices for their data processing capabilities, with add-on wireless communications as a secondary benefit.

"With new technologies on the horizon, we should see data access from mobile phones pick up again during the next two to three years," Gold says, "but only if the ergonomics are substantially improved. We have a catch-22, because most cell phone users want their devices to stay small, and [they] are demanding the highest levels of portability. Yet, the small size prohibits them from being ergonomically correct and data-intensive. That's why a cell phone will never replace a PDA, and a PDA will never replace a phone."

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at [email protected].