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Mobile devices

Mobile hardwareMobile devices like smart phones and tablets can help you work efficiently and stay in touch when you're travelling on business or away from the office.

As they're part and parcel of everyday life, your employees may be using their own mobile devices for work no matter whether you want them to or not.

That's why it's important you consider how mobile devices should fit into your business.

Types of mobile device

Mobile devices can be split into several different categories:

  • Smart phones. With touch screens and fast 3G or 4G connections, carrying a smart phone is like having a mini computer in your pocket. You can view websites, write emails and use apps for everything from editing documents to tracking your accounts.
  • Tablet computers are very similar to smart phones, only bigger. A larger touch screen provides more space within which to work, making tablets practical for a wider range of uses. Some tablets can be connected to external equipment like a screen, keyboard and mouse, and are powerful enough to use in place of your main computer.
  • Netbooks and ultrabooks are small, thin laptop computers offering all the functions of a full-size PC in a portable unit. Netbooks tend to be cheap and low powered, while ultrabooks are expensive and powerful enough to replace a full-size computer. Netbooks were most popular around 2010, but have largely been superseded by tablet computers.

Mobile hardware continues to evolve, blurring the lines between some of these categories. Some manufacturers offer 'phablet' devices, which lie somewhere between smart phones and tablets.

What is your mobile device for?

Your choice of mobile device will be heavily-dependent on how you intend to use it. Keep in mind that it's very common for people to switch between devices depending on what they need to do and where they are.

A common combination is to use a standard laptop while in the office and during overnight trips, and to rely on a smart phone when out and about at other times.

Although tablet computers are powerful, it's unusual for them to perform the role of a main computer. You may wish to issue them to selected employees on a 'by need' basis. For example, they might be most useful to your travelling sales staff.

Having said that, the world of mobile devices is changing rapidly. New ways to use them emerge regularly - sometimes companies only find new applications once they've tried them out.

One way to explore the possibilities is to implement a BYOD (bring your own device) policy. This allows your employees to use their own mobile devices for work.

What apps can you get?

It used to be that mobile devices were only really good for email and accessing the internet. But these days they can be used for much more.

Most mobile devices allow you install apps (another name for a piece of software) to perform different tasks. Typically, an app is designed to help you do one thing really well. Apps are available to do almost anything. Here are some examples:

  • Writing and editing documents
  • Tracking your to-do list
  • Managing your business accounts
  • Viewing your calendar
  • Editing video or images

Many cloud computing services offer mobile apps, so you can log in and used the service from your mobile phone.

When choosing a mobile device, spend some time researching what apps are available for it. There are a number of different mobile platforms available. App creators may choose not to make their apps available on all of them.

How's your internet access?

Mobile devices are only truly useful when you can connect them to the internet. When you choose a mobile device, think about how you're likely to use it and what sort of connection you might need.

There are two main types of mobile internet connection:

  • Wireless networking (Wi-Fi) allows you to get online wherever you can access a wireless network. All mobile devices include wireless networking. Although generally fast and reliable, you can only use it when you're in range of a wireless hotspot.
  • 4G and 3G connections use a mobile phone network to get online. All smart phones include 3G or 4G capabilities, but 4G is faster and becoming the norm.

If you have a smart phone, you should be able to stay connected almost anywhere by using a combination of these methods.

It gets a little more complicated with other mobile devices. Some tablets come with 3G or 4G capabilities, but you will usually need to pay extra for a mobile SIM card to use with the device.

Think carefully before paying extra for this feature. If your tablet is to be used in scenarios where a constant connection is vital (e.g. working on a building site or working frequently on trains) then it might be worth the expense.

If your tablet doesn't have 3G or 4G built in, you may be able to connect it to your smart phone in order to use its internet connection. This is called tethering. Tethering costs extra with some mobile networks.

Other features to look for

When choosing mobile devices, you may also want to consider these items:

  • Storage space. Is there enough room for all your data and apps?
  • Battery life. For how long can you work without regular access to mains power?
  • Connections and ports. Can you connect it to external equipment?
  • Sound and vision. Is there a good camera and microphone for videoconferencing?

Finally, keep in mind that mobile devices can have their downsides.

With their email just a couple of taps away, it can be hard for your staff to switch off from work - particularly if other people in your company are in the habit of replying at all hours. Do you need to implement policies to help your employees maintain a good work/life balance?

There are also potential security issues. A smart phone can contain sensitive information that could do serious damage to your business if it fell into the wrong hands. Think about how to protect your mobile devices and the data they contain.

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