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Smart thinking

Smart devices, effectively phones that you can use to run your life, are going to be one of the major items that phone companies will be pushing in the run up to Christmas.

The appearance of Apple CEO Steve Jobs to announce that O2 has won the UK distribution rights for the iPhone, shows how seriously the two companies view this opportunity.

In the next few weeks, a plethora of new devices will offer users an unparalleled level of pocket-size mobile technology.

Many of these devices will have a level of computing power equivalent to what you would have found on a laptop PC not so long ago. I have been using a smartphone all year and have found it a great way to get a few more things done as I am travelling or in situations where it is not practical to fire up my tablet PC. Smart devices are always on, so it takes seconds to access any document rather than waiting for your PC to start up.

Unfortunately for Jobs, and perhaps O2, the iPhone might also be subtitled the “not very smart” phone, lacking as it does many valuable features, such as 3G data capability GPS and and the ability to edit Microsoft Office documents.

However, there are alternatives for those who are looking for a phone that has all the functionality of a baby laptop.

Apple seems to have lost its way in the past year o so and history looks like it might be about to repeat itself with Apple in danger of losing a market-leading position by failing to license its software to third parties.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my iPod, so much so that I am about to order my fourth, but it will be the new 160GB iPod Classic so I can take thousands of songs on longer trips. I am not going to give up all the functionality I get from my Windows smartphone just so I can play music on my way to work.

The alternative is to transfer some MP3 files on to my phone but as Apple limits the use of its iTunes software to its own devices, I will need to convert the files to Windows Media Player format. This is inconvenient and may make me think about moving my music collection away from Apple but it is vastly preferable to working with the limitations of the iPhone. I would also not want to be locked into the 18-month minimum contract with O2.

In my opinion, anyone looking for a fully featured smartphone should seriously consider the TyTN II from Taiwanese smart device specialist HTC. The company has a 10-year pedigree of producing PDA-type phones and many of the previous leaders in this area, such as the O2 XDA, have been rebadged versions of HTC phones. Orange, Vodafone, T-Mobile and O2 parent Telefonica are all planning some European deployment of this device.

TyTN II features the latest Windows Mobile 6.0 operating system and positively bulges with business features – 3.5G data transfer that is nine times faster than the 3G rate that the iPhone does not have, GPS for navigation and maps, wifi, a micro SD slot for additional storage and, most important for me, a push-out Qwerty keyboard.

I have never got to grips with writing long documents using a phone keypad and virtual keyboards make it too easy to hit the wrong key.

With all these features and a 2.8-inch colour screen, it is not surprising it weighs 190g but it is still small enough to fit into a jacket pocket. Although it won’t do anything for the cut of your suit, it is still a lot more portable than even the smallest laptop.

To be fair, the iPhone does have a bigger screen, at 3.5 inches, and, at 135g, weighs less, but if you want to go for a more fully featured but lightweight phone and do not need a physical Qwerty keyboard, the HTC Touch, frequently referred to as the iPhone killer, weighs in at a mere 112g, although, like the Apple, it does not have 3G. A colleague of mine bought one a couple of months ago and she is rapturous about it.

From a business perspective, what really makes the HTC phones winners is the built-in Microsoft Office applications. I have been using the TyTN II’s predecessor, the TyTN I, since the beginning of the year. This uses the previous Windows Mobile 5.0 operating system which I have found to be a very reliable platform. Having the ability to create and edit Word and Excel documents on a pocket-size device means I can make far more use of snatched minutes when travelling and in between meetings.

In the past, I have used diary and note tools on other phones by Motorola or Samsung that use

different operating systems but, for getting on with business, I have found Windows Mobile by far the easiest solution.

Over the past few months, many of my columns, including this one, started life as a couple of hundred words typed into my phone during a 15-minute tube journey. I have used it to produce full 1,100-word articles but would not want to edit a document that long on a small screen.

My colleague regularly uses her HTC Touch to review and mark up PowerPoint documents on 45-minute bus journeys.

Smart devices are going to become increasingly relevant to our industry and I believe it is time for insurers and software companies to start factoring them into their development plans.

As the Windows Mobile operating system becomes increasingly more sophisticated, I would expect it to take market share from Blackberry.

If you already use Windows on your office PCs, and in our industry just about everyone does, why would you want to learn another operating system for your phone?

Equally, if you can have a phone with mobile versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and the other parts of the office suite you use on your desktop or laptop PC, why would you want to learn other applications for your phone?

I doubt that we will see advisers wanting to submit applications over their smartphones but I could easily expect them to want to access application tracking or client valuations using these.

For those wanting to look cool, the iPhone may be the phone to be seen with, but for a business solution, at least for our industry, Windows-based phones have to be the smart option and the TyTN II looks the best that I have seen so far.

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