Your Call: Smart Phones or Laptops?

By Beth Mcfadden  |  Posted 2006-03-06 Print this article Print

Should your company arm its workers with a laptop and cell phone or a smart phone? Compare costs.

With the number of mobile workers expected to grow in coming years, information-technology managers have two options for providing wireless data and voice communications.

The first option involves two devices: a laptop equipped with a wireless PC card for data, and a standard cell phone for voice. The second involves one device, a smart phone, which leverages a cellular carrier network to exchange both voice and data. Some examples are PalmOne's Treo 650; the Audiovox PPC-6700, also sold as the Sprint Pocket PC Phone; and RIM's BlackBerry.

While smart phones are more cost-efficient (see "Tool," right), Forrester analyst Ellen Daley points out that smart phones have an average life of 18 months, while laptops last on average three years. And training and technical support for smart phones can entail as much as 20 hours per employee, says Phillip Redman, a Gartner research analyst, versus 10 to 12 hours for laptops.

Phones have smaller screens than laptops, making it harder to view documents and spreadsheets. "Microsoft Office does not run well on a phone," says Ken Dulaney, Gartner's vice president of mobile computing. "Macros can be dropped, and you can't guarantee compatibility." He says smart phones are most useful for employees in the field who perform narrowly defined tasks like delivering packages.

Smart phones, however, pose a greater security risk, say analysts. While I.T. managers can install a wide range of security measures that protect a lost laptop's information, smart-phone security is in its infancy. And frankly, since they're smaller, they're more likely to fall out of an employee's pocket.


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