LAS VEGAS-Wireless, handheld devices are becoming so advanced, consumers are increasingly relying on and expecting their BlackBerries, Sidekicks and iPhones to replace laptops for all their business and personal needs.
"Mobility is no longer just an option," Todd Christy, chief technology officer for Pyxis Mobile, told attendees at The National Investment Company Service Association's Technology Summit 2007 late last month. "There is an expectation of access to mobile data at any place at any time."
Mobile devices use wireless technology to keep users connected at all times, so they can keep working wherever they are without having to find a computer or telephone jack, said David Lefcourt, manager of sales intelligence for Eaton Vance.
Cutting-edge mobile devices allow users to check and send e-mails, browse the Internet, make phone calls, stay informed on breaking news, find the local time and their exact location through global-positioning system (GPS) technology, listen to music, take pictures and videos with a built-in camera, watch TV shows and movies and play hundreds of games.
GPS tools can give detailed directions while mobile users are walking or driving and show the location of colleagues and contacts on the go, based on tracking information from the other person's mobile device. Likewise, fund wholesalers also use the devices to locate customers within their proximity and can call up account, market and product information to prepare themselves for meetings with them.
With more people using mobile devices, the opportunities for data tracking and highly individualized "one-to-one" marketing are limitless, experts say. For example, marketing technology could track a mobile device user through GPS, access their account history and inform them of a sale of their favorite brand as they're walking past the store.
News organizations are beginning to recognize the value of a constantly connected customer, and many are offering instant alerts, bulletins, e-mails and updates to keep subscribers informed on breaking news, entertainment, celebrity gossip and current sports scores.
Likewise, fund firms are increasingly using mobile technology to supply their sales forces with market analysis and reports from portfolio managers, and many now communicate on a regular basis with investors through e-mails. It may not be long before they augment that with instant messages, streaming video and webcasts.
Mobile customers can also check weather and airport delay information, view market performance, access their stock information and make online banking transactions. Mutual fund investors could increasingly use mobile devices to make portfolio transactions, as well.
Technology is improving at such a rapid pace, it won't be long before mobile devices offer features like video projection and high-quality photo printing, experts say. Features that seemed far-fetched a few years ago will be standard on future devices. Already, wireless carriers have started targeting young adults and teens by offering sleek-looking mobile devices with slide-out keyboards and video screens for easier text messaging and e-mailing.
Denis Sullivan, senior manager at Nokia Enterprise Solutions, said he doesn't take a laptop with him on business trips any more because his handheld device can do everything he needs.
Alan Panezic, vice president of software product management for Research in Motion, said network speed, capacity and capability will continue to expand, battery life will extend, and people will be able to check their messages from their home, office and cellphone in one voice mailbox.
Users will demand the latest features from their service providers, but they will want it all from one device that can do everything, getting rid of the "Batman belts" that held their phones, pagers and personal digital assistants, he said.
"We live in a world driven by speed and convenience," said Terry Jones, founder and former CEO of Travelocity.com at a recent Investment Company Institute conference in Washington. "It's all about using technology to make things simpler and offering the right product at the right time."
However, putting all that technology and information into small, portable devices with large storage capacities also has potentially huge drawbacks, Sullivan warned.
"Mobile devices are like a social engineering toolkit," Sullivan said, noting the potential for identity theft and fraud. "When you lose a mobile device, anything coming from that device is assumed to be coming from you."
Many corporate IT departments are unaware of how many employees have sensitive corporate information or client data on their mobile devices, he said. Reports of stolen personal or company laptops containing information on employees and clients continue to make the news. In the past two years alone, laptops containing customer information have been stolen from American Century, Ameriprise, Fidelity, Old Mutual and Towers Perrin.
"Thirty-five percent of all security breaches come from lost devices," Sullivan said. Because of their small size and ability to connect to a variety of networks, mobile devices pose a potentially greater security risk than laptops do.
Overall, business organizations have not embraced mobile security suites, and many enterprises have deployed devices that they can't manage, Sullivan said. Mobile devices need better security features, he said, but those features likely won't be utilized by end users unless their company's IT department forces them to.
"As security increases, features tend to become more burdensome for end users," Sullivan said. Mobile customers don't want to have to type a complicated password every time they try to answer a call or send a message, especially if their mobile device is always with them, he said.
Fortunately, security features are improving, he said. Features like voice and keystroke recognition, firewall protection, file encryption and enhanced passwords are all available and will be easier to use as technology improves.
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