Gearing up for the years ahead: The future of mobile technologies

IT pros know they're not in Kansas anymore as they negotiate a course through the complex evolution of mobile technologies in the enterprise.

ORLANDO, Fla. -- It's hard to imagine that many organizations first scoffed at the notion of BYOD. Sure, an enterprise could standardize on one or two highly secure and manageable devices, but the very thought that IT might need to support any number of alien mobile devices running myriad different operating systems was tantamount to heresy.

Yet today, that very scenario has played out across enterprises of all sizes around the world. Workers are buying their own endpoints and using them at work, obliging IT to accommodate and secure those mobile technologies.

Much of the money spent on mobility goes far beyond purchasing devices and includes the software, management tools, security products, and even the recruiting and retention of staff, said Nick Jones, a vice president and analyst at Gartner Inc., the Stamford, Conn.-based consultancy. In short, mobile technologies will have a profound effect on the future of enterprise IT. Jones outlined his vision for the future of mobile technologies at Gartner's ITxpo here this week.

By 2020, in mature markets there will be more machines connected to cellular networks than people.
Nick Jonesvice president and analyst, Gartner Inc.

Based on Gartner's CIO Priorities survey of 2012, the global shipment of all endpoints is skyrocketing and is expected to top three billion devices shipped per year by 2016. Tablet systems are projected to see the biggest growth over the next few years, but traditional laptops will remain important.

Google's Android OS clearly dominates the market today, and about 50% of all mobile devices are expected to run a version of the Android OS by 2016. Microsoft's market share is expected to climb to 25% for smartphones and about 16% for tablets by 2016. Apple's iOS should hold steady on smartphones at about 20%, while iOS on tablets is expected to fall to about 30% by 2016. Jones' message to developers is clear: "Get good at multi-platform development."

Dramatic hardware growth is anticipated in the next few years. By the end of 2014, Jones sees smartphones touting between four and eight core CPUs with asymmetrical architectures, along with a multitude of new features including vastly improved display resolutions and touchscreen features such as gestures, voice control, additional sensors and near field communication (NFC).

Various wireless technologies will emerge that further accelerate data rates for mobile devices. These mobile technologies include 802.11ad for in-room communication, 802.11ac for campus deployment, and LTE-A for wide areas. Ultimately, wireless data rates are reaching and exceeding 1 Gbps.

HTML5 will become a fact of life for mobile applications, though developers will need to understand the pros and cons involved. For example, Jones notes significant new features such as geolocation, improved graphics, a better user interface, plus support from major vendors such as Apple, Google and Microsoft. But there are downsides to HTML5's nascency: It's an immature and fragmented platform, influenced by multiple standards bodies -- World Wide Web Consortium, European Computer Manufacturers Association and so on -- and is available in multiple and/or inconsistent variations, which may not be fully compatible across every hardware platform. In addition, the security pitfalls of HTML5 are not yet fully known.

Mobile applications need vast improvements to facilitate mobile device use. Jones said that future applications must enhance the user experience with a better, more intuitive interface and stronger call to action. Also expect to see better multichannel and external integration that will focus on the users' interactions across different platforms -- imagine nearby TV ads that sync with and align to users' Web browsing habits. Apps will also become increasingly sophisticated and supported by more powerful hardware and OS platforms. And there must be a dramatic improvement in app stability and bug testing -- buggy applications just won't cut it.

Mobile devices will also proliferate in cars, buildings, toys and even clothing. Everything will have an IP address and be able to feed data across the network to be stored and processed. This creates a "cloud' of mobility that can feed mobile applications. Jones suggests that sensors in sport clothing can collect data about exercise activity and allow mobile devices to advise users on their fitness routines. This means cloud and mobile technologies are inexorably intertwined, and future mobile and cloud strategies must be aligned.

As each organization defines its mobile strategy, Jones said that these changing paradigms will force a change in admins' approach. Future mobile strategies will likely demand closer cooperation with a mix of partners to accomplish key goals. For example, strategy and design will largely remain an internal effort as companies define their own mobility goals. By comparison, deployment and operations will involve mostly external partners, and architecture and implementation will take a mix of internal and external resources.

"Think about what you need to be an expert in and what you need to give to someone else," Jones said.

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This was first published in October 2012

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