Mobility

Can smartphones replace your clients' laptops and netbooks?

Your clients might be wondering if smartphones can really replace their laptops and netbooks. Susan Harkins explains that applications and subscriptions make switching to smartphones a reality for some users.

Perhaps you've seen the commercial where the businessman uses his smartphone to work while riding the bus. It seems too good to be true, but the reality is, smartphones offer much more than you might realize.

If clients are asking whether a smartphone can really replace their laptops and netbooks, the answer is yes, but only for a limited few. Applications are the key to getting the most out of a smartphone. Here are specific examples:

  • Using Microsoft's Mobile Word, your clients can enter text, choose fonts, and even format the text, but not much more.
  • Your client can run a PowerPoint presentation on a smartphone. This works great for an audience of one, and sometimes that's all you need! With the right accessories, your client can run a PowerPoint presentation via a smartphone from across the room.
  • Speech recognition technology is also available. That means your client can send email and instant messages from a smartphone, eliminating the need to type individual messages.
  • Clients can use the camera to capture, save, and even email text.
  • With the right accessories, you can even print documents received via email or scanned (using the camera).
  • Clients can book hotels, check flight status, convert currency figures, and check weather at the destination while traveling.
  • Clients can read email, update a calendar, and so on while away from the office.
  • Some smartphones can even find the nearest gas station using GPS technology.

Accessories and subscription plans can definitely make your smartphone more efficient. (Subscription-based products offer services for a recurring fee.) Due to the smartphone's automated synchronization, your clients can do all of these things without connecting to the Internet and that's what makes the devices flexible; clients won't have to wander around looking for a hot spot to connect. To learn more about what's available, check out the online application stores: Nokia's Ovi Store, Windows Mobile Catalog, BlackBerry App World, Android Market, and Apple's App Store.

Clients aren't restricted to common productivity tools either. With the right custom applications, a smartphone can process orders, update inventory, and so on. In fact, building custom applications for smartphones could be opportunity knocking at your door; it's the latest cottage industry. IT consultants could generate a considerable amount of extra income writing custom smartphone applications for clients.

On the downside, processing speed is usually, slow and clients will struggle with the small keypads. Entering text is slow and prone to errors, although clients can purchase portable keyboards and display units. In addition, the cost of a smartphone begins to add up when you start purchasing applications, subscriptions, and portable tag-alongs.

Final analysis

Clients who need Web and email access should do fine with a smartphone, whereas clients who need to run complex business software should stick with a laptop or a netbook. Any client in between will need a case-by-case review and that's where you can really help.

The following chart compares features of smartphones and netbooks and should prove helpful when making recommendations.

  Smartphone Netbook
Voicemail Yes No
Email Yes Yes
Instant messaging Yes Yes
Social networking Yes Yes
Multitask No Yes, but limited by processor
View and edit content Yes, with the right application Yes
Complex business software No Yes, but limited by processor
Create and edit documents Limited, with the right application Yes
Web connectivity Yes Yes
Automated synchronization Yes Yes, if 3G equipped
Fast download of video and high-resolution files No Yes
Digital camera Yes, 2 to 5 megapixels; video capture, up to 30 frames per second; basic on-devise editing Digital Webcam available in some models.
Touch screen In some models No
Full-size keypad Via portable add-on Available on some models
Screen 2" to 3.5" 7" to 10"
Weight 4 to 6 ounces 6 pounds or less
Internal DVD drive No If not, check for availability of external drive.
Battery life 2 to 8 hours 3 to 12 hours
Integrated wireless Yes Yes
Processor 434 MHz, but not all manufacturers publicize this information 1 GHz to 1.6 GHz
RAM 128 MB, but not all manufacturers publicize this information 1 GB to 2 GB
Hard drive Internal storage ranges from 16 GB to 32 GB 64 GB to 160 GB
Inspected by airport security No Yes
Price $200 to $700; this doesn't include the monthly service fee. $250 to $800

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About

Susan Sales Harkins is an IT consultant, specializing in desktop solutions. Previously, she was editor in chief for The Cobb Group, the world's largest publisher of technical journals.

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