7 Tools for Your Mobile Employees

The current economy has created numerous reasons for enabling your company’s employees to be mobile, even turned into full-fledged digital nomads who have the computing power they need while on the go – regardless of the size of your business. What does such an employee need in their mobile toolkit? Here’s a quick starter’s list of the basics, beyond the traditional laptop.

1. Smartphones

“Feature phone” cellphones just are not going to cut it. Mobile employees need mobile computing devices. A smartphone such as Apple’s iPhone, Palm Pre Plus, or one of the many Android phones are the starting point of a toolkit to mobile-enable your employees.

Costs: phone (sometimes free or discounted), phone minutes, data plan, activation (sometimes), chargers, cases, mobile apps.

2. Netbooks

Smartphones, as powerful as they are these days, can’t do everything. But if a laptop isn’t always convenient to carry around, a netbook can often do the job. Besides being very light and usually having the same types of ports (USB, VGA, etc.) as a laptop, they have 3G+ cellular data plans, which allow Internet connectivity on the go, in coverage areas.

Note: Netbooks do not have optical (CD/ DVD-ROM) drives but depending on the operating system, can be enterprise-enabled.

Costs: Cellular data plan (no minutes), netbook (sometimes free), case, software.

3. Tablet Computer

Right now, the iPad is the most prominent in the “tablet computing” arena, but other companies are racing to compete with Apple, and other tablet computers are already appearing. For certain types of use, a tablet computer might benefit an employee in the field better than a netbook — especially in situations where there’s no flat surface to lay a netbook or laptop.

Enterprise use of the iPad, for example, is growing, and Apple CEO Steve Jobs indicated in his recent WWDC keynote address that there’s “deeper enterprise integration” in iOS4, the mobile OS that powers the next iPhone and which will have an iPad version to match.
Costs: device, cases, converter cables, mobile apps. In the case of Apple, apps purchased for the iPhone will often run on the iPad, and there’s no extra cost of re-purchasing. Just sync your devices with iTunes.

4. Personal Mobile Hotspot

Some smartphones offer tethering capabilities that allow Internet access to nearby Bluetooth-enabled devices, or via special cables. Other phones have “mobile hotspot” capability that allows net access via WiFi. Mobile hotspot capability is also available via standalone devices that do nothing else. Internet access is handy for mobile devices that are WiFi-only, such as a laptop or an iPad WiFi-only model.

Costs: Depends on the device. Palm Pre Plus phones have ability and Verizon offers it at no extra cost beyond the phone, monthly minutes and data plan. AT&T will offer tethering for the iPhone 4 but the iPad will not be able to use it. Standalone devices run on a monthly data plan.

5. 3rd-party Apps

Depending on the smartphone or mobile device, there are thousands or hundreds of thousands of applications available, many of which would suit businesses.

Cost: Per-seat app purchase, monthly subscriptions (sometimes).

6. In-house Custom Apps

For some companies, custom apps are a necessity for the mobile employee. The choices are Mobile Web and Native, and on some mobile devices, the difference between the two has been narrowed.

Note: Distribution methods differ depending on the mobile platform, with some options more “open” than others.

Costs: development, maintenance, distribution, training.

7. Cloud Storage

Not all mobile devices make it easy, at present, to move files between desktop/laptop and smartphone/ tablet. One option is to provide a cloud storage account to mobile employees. There are a growing number of choices, and some work on the Freemium model where a basic account is free. E.g., Dropbox.com.

Costs: Size- and/or usage-based storage plans.

This is just a starting point for managers who want to mobile-enable their employees. Want to discuss a mobile Web or native mobile app for your business or projects? Feel free to contact us to discuss your app idea or mobile campaign needs.