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Building a Mobile Platform Strategy - Part Two

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Building functional and application roadmaps for enterprise wireless applications is the easy part. Choosing devices, platforms, and application software is the tricky part. Bhavish Sood leads you through the maze.
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Although mobile applications and—more broadly—the wireless market are making their presence felt in R&D space, adoption in enterprises hasn't been to a level at which companies can justify their investments in developing newer products and services and ultimately show profits in their balance sheet. It's no longer an area that both businesses and technology vendors can afford to ignore, however.

A case in the point is Microsoft, which increased its wireless and embedded footprint with Smartphone, Launch, Windows CE.NET, and Windows XP embedded. On the other hand, Sun Microsystems is using its large developer base to make inroads and has alliances with some heavyweight device manufacturers, such as Nokia, which have come out in support of Java as a platform.

In my last column, I outlined how enterprises can incorporate wireless technologies. The rule of thumb is that applications should be wireless-enabled only when their real-time availability can make a significant impact on critical business decisions. The wireless architecture gives a good overview of what kind of decisions need to be made while rolling out an enterprise grade application (see Figure 1).

Figure 01Figure 1 The enterprise wireless architecture.

Evaluation Criteria

Most of us evaluate platform strategies without taking a look at some important key criteria. Some of the conceptions that we have inherited (see Figure 2) include "Microsoft is best with bringing out newer options and features;" "Sun is best known for its stability;" and so on. This is fine, except we didn't consider several important evaluation criteria. For example, have we considered how much a particular technology vendor spends on its R&D as a sign of its commitment to innovation?

Figure 02Figure 2 Major wireless platforms.

Have we looked at its financials to see how concurrent releases of its products are delivered? In the wireless sector, this is ever more important for niche technology startups around the world. (Remember Palm in its early days?)

When evaluating an OS for your wireless device, microprocessor support is another crucial issue. Many technology vendors such as Microsoft support multiple selection of CPUs. When evaluating a platform, support for the following four families of microprocessors and emulation technologies is essential:

  • ARM: ARM720T, ARM920T, ARM1020T, StrongARM, XScale

  • MIPS: MIPS II/32 with FP, MIPS II/32 without FP, MIPS16, MIPS IV/64 with FP, MIPS IV/64 without FP

  • SHx: SH-3, SH-3 DSP, SH-4

  • X86: 486, 586, Geode, Pentium I/II/III/IV

Palm, Microsoft, Motorola, and Intel have all announced support ARM core modules. OSs with support for ARM should be chosen for any kind of wireless development because their footprints are increasing beyond mobile devices. It's only in the Set Top boxes segment that MIPS is the preferred choice among manufacturers.

Microsoft recommends that developers choose Windows CE.NET for solutions requiring real-time, a small footprint, and support for non-x86-based processors. It also recommends that they select Windows XP Embedded for solutions requiring the latest Windows technologies built on the x86 processor using existing Win32 drivers, hardware, or applications.

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