David Heit, director of software product management for smartphone maker Research in Motion (RIM), believes that mobile devices have evolved from a purely tactical business device designed to meet specific needs—such as a tool for remote and travelling employees—to a key enterprise requirement. “We’re seeing a greater depth of deployment in the enterprise, with mobile devices much more widespread throughout all levels of many companies,” says Heit.

That dramatic growth has been largely driven from the top downwards at many organizations, with senior executives, sales staff, and field employees among the first employees to embrace smartphones. “We’ve definitely seen a greater degree of smart phone integration within the business community over the last few years,” says Mark Ciabattari, senior marketing manager for Palm Computing. “The smart phone used to be something that only key executives would use, and adoption took more of a piecemeal approach.” Ciabattari says that the migration of smart phones from the board room to other areas of most companies is a key factor in the exploding growth of smartphone sales for business use.
 
Smartphones have also become much more capable devices: Years ago, mobile phones were primarily used only for voice communication. Features like text messaging, email integration, voice activation and other options have made the devices even more capable, and helped users walk away from their office PC or leave that heavy laptop behind. 
Will a smartphone replace your laptop?

The increasing power and capability of smartphones is gradually replacing tasks that we all used to use other devices for. Popular smartphone models like Research in Motion’s Blackberry Curve 8830 and the Palm Treo 755p have become attractive alternatives to laptops for many office workers, particularly now that smartphones have the ability to send and receive rich text emails with images, sound and video. More powerful processors and burgeoning memory capacity allow documents to be previewed (and even edited) on a mobile device. Smartphones may not entirely replace laptops as a mobile computing solution, but users are now finding more instances where a smartphone will work just fine.

All this extra demand for smartphones in the enterprise has convinced other manufacturers to get into the act. Sony Ericsson recently announced the X1 smartphone, which will be the first Sony Ericsson phone to ship with a Windows Mobile OS. Apple has launched a variety of initiatives designed to drive iPhone adoption among enterprise users (see sidebar for details).  Given the success of the iPhone in the consumer market, many other hardware vendors are beginning to introduce touch screens and other iPhone-inspired features on their own products. Case in point: the Samsung Instinct SPH-M800 looks like it fell from the same fruit tree as Apple’s popular phone, but it sports access to Sprint’s faster EV-DO cell phone network.

In addition to all the aforementioned capabilities of smartphones, interoperability with enterprises has also improved. “The ease of setup, improved out of box experience and seamless integration with existing IT infrastructures is better \[with smart phones\] now that it has ever been,” says Ciabattri. “That interoperability provides a greater degree of commonality, which improves efficiency…and allows IT decision makers to leverage those resources more effectively.”