Mobile app development moves beyond CRM, but slowly

Tiny screens, lack of demand hamper mobile development

Everywhere you go these days, people are using BlackBerries to check e-mail and set up appointments. But the march toward everyday use of more complex business applications on smartphones is going slowly at best.

Mobile CRM tools for salespeople have been on the market for several years, and more recently IBM's Cognos division has adapted business intelligence tools for handheld devices. The innovative form factor of the iPhone is also spurring vendors to think about how applications can be shrunk down for workers on the go.

But the mobile application market is still being held back by small screen sizes and limitations in storage, memory and computing power, according to analysts and vendors. Some applications are simply too complex for today's mobile devices.

"A lot of business applications that are done in house have to do with analytics," notes Saswato Das, a spokesman for SAP's business applications unit. "If you want to run something fairly sophisticated that requires a lot of memory, that requires a lot of computing power, a handheld today is not the best place to do it."

SAP, therefore, focuses most of its mobile efforts on providing customer relationship management (CRM) tools to sales and marketing people, he says.

Companies like Oracle and IBM are also optimizing their applications for smartphones to satisfy demand from an increasingly mobile workforce. A product called PCNow made by Cisco's WebEx division even gives smartphone users remote access to their PCs, allowing them to view files and folders from their hard drives and search their desktop computers, all from a BlackBerry or similar device.

Moving beyond CRM

But how much work do users really want to do on a BlackBerry? Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney thinks most workers don't want their smartphones to be like a second computer. Instead, they want just enough functionality to get by when they are out of the office. Dulaney sees GPS systems as a natural fit for mobile phones. But tasks have to be important and time-sensitive to make people accept the inconvenience of a small keyboard and screen, he says.

If you were presented a mobile phone and laptop side by side, and both had the same capabilities, "you would never use the phone," Dulaney says. "If people can wait until they get home or wait till they get back to their office, they will. The transactions put on the phone have to have some sense of time-criticality."

Perhaps Apple's iPhone will do for the business market what it has done for consumers, but it hasn't happened yet. Vendors say they are testing applications on the iPhone, because they want to be ready in case businesses decide to replace their keypad-based devices with the iPhone and its touch screen.

A vendor called Etelos made its CRM platform available on the iPhone last year. SAP demonstrated a CRM application on the iPhone in December, but for now Das says the BlackBerry is "the king of the enterprise" and thus SAP's main focus.

"We would love to do the iPhone," says IBM Cognos product manager Anastasia Valentine. But "we haven't seen the enterprise demand for the iPhone yet."

Meanwhile, Cognos is pushing the mobile application market beyond CRM tools with IBM Cognos 8 Go! Mobile, a business intelligence tool for BlackBerries and phones based on the Windows Mobile operating system. Cognos Mobile has been available for more than a year.

Making a desktop application useful on a mobile device is challenging, Valentine notes. Some functionality must be stripped away in the mobile version, while new tools must be added to make applications easy to use.

With Cognos for mobile, product developers added interactivity elements, such as the ability to drill down on specific objects, hide and show columns and scroll through rows. The idea is to change the appearance of reports to make them easily readable on a 2-inch screen. Smartphone users can have scheduled analytical reports run automatically and delivered to the mobile device, though they still may prefer to access the reports on their desktops, Valentine notes. PDF-based printing is among the features that aren't available on the smartphone version of Cognos.

Join the newsletter!


Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Jon Brodkin

Network World
Show Comments





Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Aysha Strobbe

Microsoft Office 365/HP Spectre x360

Microsoft Office continues to make a student’s life that little bit easier by offering reliable, easy to use, time-saving functionality, while continuing to develop new features that further enhance what is already a formidable collection of applications

Michael Hargreaves

Microsoft Office 365/Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

I’d recommend a Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 and the new Windows 10 to anyone who needs to get serious work done (before you kick back on your couch with your favourite Netflix show.)

Maryellen Rose George

Brother PT-P750W

It’s useful for office tasks as well as pragmatic labelling of equipment and storage – just don’t get too excited and label everything in sight!

Cathy Giles

Brother MFC-L8900CDW

The Brother MFC-L8900CDW is an absolute stand out. I struggle to fault it.

Luke Hill


I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?