The State of Mobile Applications

By Elizabeth Millard  |  Posted 2008-08-20

In the mobile software arena, major players--like Apple’s iPhone and Google’s forthcoming Android-- are duking it out for control of an emerging market where start-up applications on open platforms are winning consumers and business users alike. Will features that emphasize efficiency win, or does the gold medal go to apps that promise better integration with enterprise systems?
For consumers, the types of mobile applications that will be popular -- and already are -- run the gamut, with iPhone-focused software being particularly hot, notes Forrester Research Senior Analyst Michele Pelino. There's no surprise there, but when it comes to the enterprise space, future adoption trends aren't quite as obvious.

Some users simply want everything.

"To me, and many business users, I argue that efficiency and integration with enterprise systems are one in the same, and that security is a non-negotiable must-have," says Ed Adams, CEO of Security Innovation, a provider of application security and risk assessment services.

He adds, "Basically, I want it all and should be entitled to it. What will win? Business efficiency first, followed by integration to enterprise systems, and security last. This will be the case until an organization is breached and then security all of a sudden becomes important."

In general, the types of software that are selling well now seem to focus primarily on the type of bedrock functionality that cuts across industries: email, text messaging, and calendar programs make up the bulk of the market, Pelino says.

Integration with enterprise systems is especially important for these types of applications, since they need to synchronize with what's already in place.

Beyond these traditional applications, though, there's some movement toward specialized software within industries, with applications like mobile CRM and field service automation picking up some adoption. But mobile applications still have a long way to go before they're standard issue in every office and cubicle.

These types of vertical mobile apps have been hyped for the past few years, without the subsequent adoption to help them grow. Last year, analysts noted they saw early success with small and midsize businesses doing pilot projects, as well as strong adoption rates overseas and better technology. But challenges have cropped up in terms of ROI, security, and usability.

"Companies are looking at apps like mobile CRM more now than they have in the past," says Pelino. "There are now applications that tie into customer service support, and field service automation, and more is taking off in what we'd call 'line of business' applications."

But these apps still need to fit well with productivity goals and clear value to the organization, she adds. Simply being easy to use or integrating well with enterprise systems isn't enough -- pure-play apps like those from Antenna Software, @Road, or Zora appeal to smaller markets, and even within those, there's some resistance coming from those doing the purchasing, Pelino believes.

"People have become more comfortable using mobile devices, but at the IT level, there's still hesitation," she says. "There are concerns about day-to-day implementation and risks, and if there isn't a perception of greater rewards than risks, then it doesn't matter how great the application might perform, or its level of ease of use; it simply won't be adopted."

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Although widespread use of mobile apps in enterprises has yet to become a reality, some analysts believe that the golden age will arrive eventually. At the Sybase TechWave 2008 conference, for example, Gartner Research Director Mike King predicted that the next big wave of mobile applications development will involve the integration of context, which takes into consideration a user's location, schedule, email loads, and how synergistic applications are deployed on the handset.

He also noted that with platforms, including the iPhone, mobile applications will have to support multiple operating systems and form factors. That scenario could lead more enterprise users toward mobility, since integration with existing systems would be more seamless.

Securing the Office

For some enterprises, quibbling over the features and functions of different mobile applications may be a fruitless discussion, since there are still numerous companies that aren't embracing mobile technology due to perceived security risks, Pelino notes.

"These risks are often related to the devices, rather than the applications, but they hinder adoption of mobile apps because IT doesn't want to deal with all the security issues," she says.

As mobile applications mature in the marketplace, security is likely to become a much larger discussion, notes Richard Rushing, CSO of AirDefense: "Security at the device level is a relatively easy process, but on the application level, it's much more complicated. It's not being addressed, and as a result, as an industry, we're cleaning up mess after mess."

Mobile apps in the near future are likely to win more users through emphasis on features like encryption and authentication. "Security is now becoming a forethought in these apps, instead of the afterthought it once was," he notes.

As IT departments peer more closely into security controls, employees devoted to their devices are likely to keep pushing for more access to applications, particularly as the consumer space brings continual innovation.

Much like PC-centric applications, what becomes adopted at an enterprise may depend largely on user preference, and how emphatically they push for apps, believes Stephen Katz, founder and president of Security Risk Solutions, and formerly the first CISO at Citibank.

"Demand is spurring manufacturers to improve mobile technology offerings, and creates this need to have more mobile apps in the office," he says. "Now, it's up to the enterprise to recognize how to make the best use of them, instead of throwing up roadblocks."