Predictions that mobile email is set to spread from the executive classes to ‘the corporate masses' may not please those who have had to endure others' BlackBerry addictions at social gatherings. But mobile phone manufacturers' fresh enthusiasm for the enterprise market will be welcomed by CIOs and CFOs.
Most companies have forked out for consumer-oriented devices that are at best a waste of IT cash and at worst unmanageable and a security risk. Now vendors seem to have woken up to the fact that the two markets need to be served by very different functionality.
IT departments need the central facility to wipe a lost mobile phone of its potentially sensitive data much more than users need a camera or an FM radio built into their phone. The prospect of a business phone that links directly into the corporate PBX once the user enters the company's buildings is more appealing to most businesses than issuing a user with an MP3 player or a video recorder.
But adoption of those kinds of business-specific features are just the start. Technology not unlike the ‘presence' settings on instant messenger software, will mean the same handset can change its display to suit different environments and time of day: during office hours the device displays corporate application and phone lists while multimedia facilities are temporarily disabled; as the user leaves work, the music player function might be enabled and the display taken over by a more personalised look and feel.
Abigail Sellen, a Microsoft re-searcher working on new kinds of human-computer interaction, predicts that devices might change according to location, thanks to advances in global positioning system (GPS) technology.
As she explains in this month's feature on user interfaces (‘Man and machine'), the mobile phone is a prime example of how technology can succeed by doing one or two things well, rather than cramming too many functions into one device.
The theme linking those features is ‘taking control over technology'. While the prospect of living with 24×7 office email may be less than palatable, the next-generation of presence-enabled devices, could strike a more comfortable balance. After all, what dinner party host wouldn't want their guests' BlackBerrys to disable themselves after 7pm?
Editor: Kenny MacIver