NetWorkWorld has an article on what makes a phone optimal as a mobile enterprise device. The better IT managers are realizing that end users want devices with cool features and recognize that the carriers are more interested in catering to users and not IT departments. In the US, it is too expensive to consider buying unlocked devices of your choice for dozens or hundreds of users, so you have to be satisfied with what carriers offer. What are the bare minimum requirements for a phone for the enterprise?The article looks at four key areas - security, centralized management, ease of use and battery life. For some devices, like a Blackberry managed by Blackberry Enterprise Server or Windows Mobile connected to an Exchange Server, security is pretty easy. You can enforce a password and remote wipe the device if necessary, ensuring that all data on the phone are cleared off. If the phone has a storage card though, it might be another matter. If the phone supports storage card encryption, you are ok, otherwise, sensitive documents or other information might be exposed. Honestly though, that could just as easily happen with all of the unencrypted USB keys people run around with.
The Blackberry and Windows Mobile also satisfy centralized management. I think this depends on the size of your organization. If you have to configure dozens of devices, centralized management is crucial. There are a lot of smaller businesses though that can get by with basic PIN enforcement. If that works for you, then devices like the iPhone can also be configured by Exchange. A number of non-Microsoft platforms ship with ActiveSync on them that allow Exchange to connect to them. All of Palm's recent Treo line included this feature and the new Palm Pre will as well. Even Nokia has Exchange ActiveSync in many of their S60 based smartphones now. So, again, depending on the level of control your organization needs, just about any major smartphone could be an option.
I don't really see the last two categories, ease of use and battery life, being a real issue. If the IT department is selecting the device and handing them out, then yes, it must be easy to use. If IT though is working with the user to help them select something they will be happy with, or will just use their existing smartphone, then the user will surely pick something they are familiar with. Perhaps that should be a requirement. If they own a device, such as an iPhone, or have owned or used one in the past, and the iPhone meets other requirements, then it should be fine. However, if they have never used one before, then there has to be an education process. The biggest complaint I hear from a productivity standpoint is the lack of a physical keyboard on the iPhone. It may not matter to some though. While there are many people that pound out dozens of emails a day with their muscular thumbs, others just use the phone for email triage, reading messages, replying with short phrases and flagging for later follow up. At that point, input efficiency isn't as important.
Battery life is a similar issue. The device needs to be able to last a full day at least. I think it is pretty safe to assume that with all of the power in these devices and the current battery technology level, gone are the days of charging your phone two to three times a week. Even when they are on your nightstand, they are constantly connected to your email server waiting for that push signal to pull emails down. Because these devices have other goodies like web browsing and MP3 players, it is likely those features will be used with varying levels of frequency ensuring a nightly charge is needed. All bets are off though if the phone is used for watching movies on a cross-country flight or WiFi is switched on. If that happens, it is time to consider backup batteries.
Read the article for lots of comments from IT managers of various companies wrestling with these issues. The Blackberry and Windows Mobile both shine in all of the areas above, but they aren't the only choices. Other less enterprise focused devices may fit the bill for you and some of your users. I understand some companies have very strict requirements for security, such as those in the health industry or subject to certain governmental contracts, and in those cases you may not have much of a choice. But for the rest of us, it isn't a one size fits all world. Don't try to force your users into that mold.