Making the Call
Last fall, executives from Symbian heralded the start of the smartphone era. Smartphones, they said, are about to revolutionize society, much like the Internet did in the 1990s. The executives predicted that smartphones will replace PCs in the next five years, and that the enormous popularity of these devices--particularly among youths--will prompt the need for a "smartphone in every pocket."
The latter is easy to imagine as smartphones grow increasingly versatile. Business functionalities such as push email, Internet access and popular operating systems now come built into smartphones, making them serious business tools for everyone from pilots to doctors. Solutions providers are also designing applications for smartphones that enable them to better complement laptops and, in many cases, to perform as a worker's primary mobile tool.
The first smartphone, released in 1992 by IBM, had only a few basic features--email, a calendar, an address book, calculator, notepad and games. As the phones have evolved, features have come to include business functionalities such as the ability to dial a phone number by simply speaking the digits.
CallXpress Speech Server from AVST provides smartphone users with "anytime-anywhere communications" by enabling them to make phone calls and log into computer systems by voice command. For example, users can return phone calls by telling their smartphones "call back." They can also record conversations and save the file to their mailbox as a voice message, while keeing their hands on the wheel or walking through an airport.
"CallXpress is ideal for a variety of voice and data convergence needs and can be tailored to fit businesses and organizations in a wide range of industries," says Paul Cheslaw, AVST's VP and general manager of Europe, Middle East and Africa operations.
Last fall, CallXpress released a new version of its Speech Server that includes a feature designed to enable better communication with BlackBerry users. Text-Reply-with-Voice allows certain voice commands to be used to send preconfigured text messages to BlackBerry devices as emails. CallXpress came up with this feature because BlackBerry devices do not recognize voice files.
VoiceSignal offers smartphone users similar voice recognition technology in its VSuite software but also gives them the option of vocally dialing phone extensions and the ability to distinguish between identical names in an address book. The VSuite application now comes installed in RIM's BlackBerry Pearl.
Remote Computer Access
Steffan Heuer was in a bit of a jam on a recent business trip to Germany. He needed some files stored on his office computer in San Francisco, but didn't want to call anyone to retrieve them because of the nine-hour time difference. Rather than panic, Heuer used his Sprint Treo 650 to locate the files, forward them to his email and send them on to the person who had asked for them. "Problem solved, without waking anybody up," said Heuer.
The technology that allowed Heuer to retrieve electronic files from halfway around the globe comes from SoonR, a Silicon Valley-based company that gives PC and Mac users the ability to access their computer from any cell phone or PDA over any carrier network. The company's service also allows cell phone users to access Windows files.
Heuer seldom knows the kinds of computer files he'll need when he travels for business, so the ability to remotely tap into his computer has proved essential. "I travel about 30 percent of the time for work, many times to Europe," says Heuer, who is the U.S. correspondent for the German business magazine brand eins. "I don't always have my folders and manuscripts on my Powerbook because I don't know what topics will come up, or which old jobs need to be revisited, say, by my fact-checkers or editors."
With SoonR, Heuer has both online and offline access to the files on his four Macs. He also can call up quick renderings of pictures and documents, regardless of the file format, and access complete documents from the SoonR server.
Similarly, a solution from Avvenu called Access 'n Share offers Palm Treo 700p users "direct route" access to their computers. Users can access any documents they downloaded to their home or office computers.
Home and office computers also can be accessed through the RemoMail program from Remoba. The program connects smartphone users to their personal or business email accounts and has security provisions in place to protect the data. Users can compose, reply, forward and delete emails from up to 10 different accounts.
Carl Tyler gained a new appreciation for telephone systems while working in Paris. "I was based in France for three months," said Tyler, the chief technology officer at Instant Technologies, a New Hampshire-based software developer. "People were able to call my [N.H. office] number and the calls were directed to me in France."
Finding a technology that would reroute calls to Tyler and other employees of Instant Technologies, no matter where in the world they worked, was a challenge for the 10-person startup. But Tyler settled on GotVMail, which forwards calls anywhere to any phone, whether an office phone, smartphone or VoIP service. GotVMail provides companies with an 800 number, a directory that enables callers to dial by extension or name, and emails voicemail messages to the appropriate parties. "It was a Godsend when I was in France. People would call [the office] and they didn't have to worry about getting the correct dialtone or country code or anything like that."
The phone system used by Energy South in Mobile, Ala., is simpler still. The gas utility uses Datria Ticket Management 2.0, a program that allows field service technicians to manage their work and communicate with the home office using only their voice and a phone, whether a landline or a smartphone. Field representatives call from any location using any phone to report or receive job information.
"It has saved a lot of logistical issues for us as opposed to putting laptops in the field," says Alan Hobbs, director of customer service for Energy South. "We don't have to worry about the heat, worry about people stealing them, or worry about getting technical support for them. With [a phone], you don't worry about any of that."