Secret Life of the Mobile User

The stereotype is that the Millennial generation has pushed the use of mobile tech in business, creating the "bring your own device" phenomenon that has very quickly forced enterprises to let go of the corporate-issued-BlackBerry approach to controlling user technology. As it turns out, Baby Boomers -- today's executives and managers -- have led the charge. The median age of mobile workers is in fact 46, or eight years older than the average Facebook and Twitter user.

Millennials are very much mobile-oriented and believe in using their preferred devices for both work and personal purposes, but in that regard, they're no different than the generation before them. Mobile heterogeneity and the mixing of business and personal use is not a generational phenomemon -- it's a universal change taking place across the enterprise.

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Artwork: Chip Taylor
That phenomenon is very likely to force a seismic shift in the devices we all use in business. Tablets like the iPad will displace laptops for most people, as laptops become the new desktop: a powerful computer that sits in one spot most of the time, while users take up their iPads to do routine work. More than a third (37.2 percent) of mobile workers believe that shift will happen in 2011 -- only a year or so after the iPad first shipped. And most of those -- 27.4 percent -- expect an iPad or a similar device will replace the laptop.

Two other recent surveys show the same belief, though Steve Wastie, product development VP at iPass, expects it will take longer for the transition to occur. Already, 43.5 percent of mobile workers sometimes leave their laptop in the office, relying on a mobile device instead when not on-site to do work.

These are two of the surprising conclusions in a survey [PDF] of more than 1,100 mobile workers by iPass, a firm that helps companies manage their mobile broadband usage. (iPass defines a mobile worker as someone who uses any mobile device, including laptops, to access network resources outside the corporate LAN for work purposes.) The quarterly survey is global and crosses industries, adding up to a broad snapshot of real-world usage and beliefs. The results paint a picture of mobile technology usage in business that's radically different from today's norm, with implications for software and hardware developers, IT managers, and business strategists.

Some mobile generation gaps do exist

Artwork: Chip Taylor
There are some mobile generation gaps. For example, Millennials are slightly more likely to have a smartphone than a Baby Boomer (90 percent versus 80 percent), but already 84.6 percent of all mobile workers have a smartphone. On average, 69 percent of mobile workers use a smartphone for job-related duties. Here, a surprising generation gap emerges: More than 70 percent Baby Boomers use a smartphone for work, versus 59 percent for Millennials.

Another generation gap: 56.5 percent of mobile workers aged 22 to 34 were likely to leave their laptops in the office and used mobile devices for job purposes, versus 34.5 percent for workers age 55 and older. That indicates younger workers are more quickly adapting to using mobile devices as a primary work device, Wastie says.

iPhones and Androids will rule the mobile roost

The transition to mobile is happening very fast, and users expect these devices to be real computers, not mere messaging devices. That explains why, despite RIM co-CEO Jim Balsillie's assertion this week that apps don't matter in mobile, users are flocking to the two most versatile, app-oriented mobile platforms: Apple's iOS (used in the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad) and Google's Android.

In fact, the survey predicts that these two platforms will dominate mobile business usage, with iPhones to account for 42.4 percent of smartphones bought by mobile workers when current contracts expire and Android smartphones comprising 23.8 percent. Only 19 percent wanted the messaging-oriented BlackBerry, which iPass's Wastie says suggests the RIM platform is fated to rapid obsolence. At the SIIA All about Mobile conference this week, Motorola product development exec Rick Bylina, who works on its Android products, joked that Balsillie should donate some BlackBerrys to a museum "so his grandkids will know what a BlackBerry was." The iPass survey also shows declining interest in Nokia, Windows Mobile, and WebOS devices.

Personal and business use are already highly mixed

The iPass survey found that employees who had to buy their own smartphones were less likely to use them for work purposes -- but two-thirds of them still did. In other words, mixed personal/business use is already the norm.

The survey found that 58.2 percent of mobile workers had used a personal device for work, and that percentage didn't vary based on age. Nearly half of employees (46.2 percent) regularly use their own smartphones for work. When workers bought the devices themselves, nearly half of those (45.7 percent) chose iPhones, the survey found. The iPhone was the first choice for both work use (29.7 percent) and personal use (46.1 percent) among those who purchased their own personal smartphones.

When employers provided smartphones, 51.3 percent were BlackBerrys, 20.7 percent were iPhones, and 12.0 percent were the now-discontinued Windows Phone devices. Symbian followed at 7.9 percent and Android at 6.2 percent. About half of mobile workers expect such employers to broaden the range of provided devices, with iPhones and Android topping the list of devices expected to join the employer's menu of options.

Although the iPhone remained the most desired smartphone across all age groups, employees aged 22 to 34 were nearly as hot for the Android platform as for the iPhone (34 percent and 42 percent, respectively). Desire for Android devices dipped to about 25 percent for all other age groups. The BlackBerry was desired by 27 percent of workers aged 55 to 64, typically because of their familiarity with the platform, iPass says, but by only 11 percent of those aged 22 to 34.

The strong desire for iPhones and Android devices was fairly consistent across the globe. But Europe's pattern of mobile desire differed slightly from the rest of the world in that Europeans were less likely to want a BlackBerry (12 percent versus 24 percent in North America and 17 percent in Asia) and more likely to want a Nokia device (11 percent versus 1 percent in North America and 5 percent in Asia).

The risks of mobile devices
A constant concern in IT and legal circles is what happens if a smartphone is lost or stolen and has corporate data on it. That worry is why many organizations carry policies requiring supported devices have on-device encryption and remote-wipe capabilities. (The use of encrypted devices exempts businesses from the laws in most states that require public notification if employee or customer personal data may have been accidentally released. BlackBerry, iOS (used in the iPhone and iPad), Windows Mobile, and some Nokia Symbian devices support on-device encryption; Windows Phone 7, WebOS, and Android devices do not.

The iPass survey shows that device loss is a legitimate concern: 14.3 percent of mobile workers had lost their smartphones or had them stolen. And the percentage was higher for workers aged 22 to 34 (22.9 percent) and those who used their personal devices (20.0 percent).

This article, "The truth about today's mobile user," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Gruman et al.'s Mobile Edge blog and follow the latest developments in mobile technology at InfoWorld.com.

For comprehensive coverage of the Android ecosystem, visit Greenbot.com.

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