5 Promising Startups Make Smartphones Enterprise Friendly

By Jeff Vance

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Smartphones are invading the enterprise record numbers especially now that several models have a price tag of under $100 (with carrier subsidies). The question for IT is whether they’ll get ahead of this trend or struggle to catch up (as they did with WiFi, laptops, and removable storage devices).

“People don’t treat smartphones the same way they do laptops, but these devices have become every bit as powerful,” said Rob Groome, IT manager at University of Southern California’s Institute for Creative Technologies. Groome pointed out that users chafe at such security policies as short timeouts followed by the need to enter a password to log back in.

This is standard practice for PCs and laptops, but with smartphones users feel the password requirement is overkill. Many users then find ways to disable these security features. In fact, with few IT management tools available, users are in the driver’s seat when it comes to security. “Even with Blackberries, people find ways on the device to get around security obstacles,” Groome said.

Proactivly enforcing security can even backfire. For instance, if you aggressively block URLs on the corporate WiFi network, users will move to open, unsecured networks whenever they can. Security, management and ownership (which determines who has the permission and ability to control the devices) are all concerns as the smartphone becomes entrenched in the enterprise. These five startups are tackling those problems, as well as some other things you may not have even thought were concerns:

1. MobileIron

What they do: MobileIron's Virtual smartphone Platform moves smartphone data to the enterprise Cloud by creating a clone of all of the data and applications on the phone. The platform gives IT and end users real-time intelligence and control over smartphone content, activity and applications.

Why is it important? According to IDC, 50 million smartphones were sold globally in 2009 for use in the enterprise. Meanwhile, Forrester recently released data showing 78% of information workers either use or want to use smartphones for work.

“IT is losing control of smartphones due to the challenges of multiple platforms, employee-owned phones and increasing wireless costs,” MobileIron spokeswoman Clarissa Horowitz said. “However, IT continues to retain all the accountability for security and cost management.”

Since smartphones are much harder to manage and secure than laptops, IT needs a platform (and MobileIron wants to be that platform) to address these challenges and make smartphones an enterprise-ready computing platform.

Platforms supported: BlackBerry, iPhone, Windows Mobile and Symbian. Android support is slated for Q2 2010.

Customers: MobileIron’s 20 enterprise customers include Windsor Foods, NETGEAR, and Fenwick & West.

Competitors: Good Technologies, Sybase and Trust Digital.

Funding: $19.8 million from Norwest Venture Partners, Sequoia Capital and Storm Ventures.

CEO: Bob Tinker, President and CEO, previously led the business development team for Cisco’s wireless business units, a combined $1billion business.

Headquarters: Mountain View, CA.

2. Rove

What they do: Rove’s flagship product Mobile Admin enables IT incident resolution from smartphones. “We provide IT professionals with secure remote access to over 500 IT administration features across dozens of server-, service- and platform-types using a variety of smartphones,” said Rob Woodbridge, CEO.

Why is it important? Without being tethered to their desks, IT and system administrators can use Mobile Admin to manage the entire incident resolution workflow process, from detection to triage and resolution resulting in reduced downtime, better customer service and a more efficient IT department.

“It boils down to busy, scarce and in-high-demand individuals having anytime, anywhere access to their IT infrastructure so that they can resolve issues quickly and drastically minimize the impact to business,” Woodbridge said.

Platforms: BlackBerry, iPhone, Symbian and Windows Mobile. Rove is currently developing an Android version that will be released in the spring.

Customers: Rove claims more than 2,500 customers worldwide, including 75 of the Fortune 500 and five of the world’s largest banks. Named customers include ABC.com, Boeing, Capital One and Duke University.

Competitors: “Our direct competition is laptops and tethered laptops, seriously,” Woodbridge said. He also mentioned Avocent DSV3 Mobile. We’ve researched plenty of other IT-related apps for smartphones but have yet to find one as full-featured as Mobile Admin.

Funding: Angel funded originally but now funded on revenue.

CEO: Before joining Rove, CEO Rob Woodbridge was VP of Operations at Magmic Games.

Headquarters: Ottawa, Canada.

3. Lookout

What they do: Smartphone security, or rather lack thereof, is a disaster waiting to happen. Anyone who has seen PCs bog down when a bloated security suite runs knows that porting desktop-style security to the smartphone is a mistake.

Lookout’s approach is to combine two emerging technologies: smartphones and the Cloud. A lightweight client communicates with Cloud-based services to offer AV, firewall, and IPS protection, data backup and device lookdown/remote wiping if the handset is lost or stolen.

Why is it important? Plenty of mobile malware, such as the Sexy View worm, is already creeping around the mobile Web. Meanwhile, lost smartphones represent a data-leak security hole a mile wide. As smartphones store more and more critical data, without proper security in place, each lost or stolen device represents yet another potential VA incident.

The reason we included Lookout over any number of other mobile security startups is one cool feature. If you think you’ve lost your handset, Lookout helps you track it (from another device, obviously) via an interactive online map. A missing-device locater feature that makes your phone “scream” will help you find it tucked in the couch cushions. If your phone has been stolen, this feature, which can’t be turned off, should annoy thieves enough that they abandon your phone. Nice.

Platforms: All major smartphone OS's.

Customers: For now, Lookout is a consumer, rather than enterprise security service. Currently, the beta version is free, although Lookout plans to charge a subscription fee in the future. Lookout also intends to release an enterprise version late this year or early next.

Don’t be surprise if Lookout or a startup like it follows the trail blazed by major PC security vendors and starts selling to the pipe providers, rather than consumers. It’s in the carriers’ interest to protect their networks by offering security as a free service to their own subscribers.

Competitors: MobileIron, Good Technologies, Sybase and Trust Digital – and don’t forget the incumbent security vendors. McAfee, Symantec and others won’t just sit on their hands and leave money on the table.

Funding: $5.5 million in series A funding from Khosla Ventures, Trilogy Partnership and angel investors.

CEO: John Hering, CEO, founded Lookout (formerly Flexilis) with CTO Kevin Mahaffey in 2005.

Headquarters: Currently Orange County, CA, but the company is in the process of moving to San Francisco.

4. Pixtronix

What they do: Pixtronix’ PerfectLight display platform combines high image quality (135% NTSC color gamut, 170 degree view angles, 1,000:1 contrast ratio) with ultra-low power consumption (Pixtronix claims a 75% reduction in power consumption vs. LCD displays). The displays are manufactured on existing LCD infrastructure, enabling any number of inexpensive mobile multimedia devices.

Why is it important? All the cool things you can do on smartphones, such as streaming movies or using GPS-enabled map apps, quickly drain the battery. Better battery technology would certainly help, but components that consume less energy help every bit as much. Pixtronix claims that PerfectLight conserves power without sacrificing display quality.

What does this have to do with IT? Battery life is a concern for everyone, from consumers to enterprise users to IT. A dead battery is a hassle for consumers. For business users, though, prematurely dead batteries translate into lost productivity and lost dollars.

Platforms: Platform agnostic.

Customers: “We have contracts with multiple LCD manufacturers in Asia; however, these engagements are covered by confidentiality agreements, and we are therefore not disclosing specifics at this time,” said spokesman Mark Halfman.

Competitors: Pixtronix main competitors are manufacturers of LCD and OLED displays. However, the future of displays is wide open. Behemoths like Qualcomm with its mirasol technology continue to push innovation, while startups such as Pixel Qi and Liquavista (spun out of Philips Research Labs in 2006) will slug it out with Pixtronix.

Even E Ink’s electronic paper displays could theoretically compete with Pixtronix as device form factors continue to evolve.

Funding: ~$52 million from Atlas Venture, Kleiner Perkins Caulfield Beyers, Duff Ackerman & Goodrich Ventures, and Gold Hill Capital.

CEO: CEO Tony Zona was previously VP and GM of Motorola’s Fiber-to-the-Premises business unit.

Headquarters: Andover, MA

5. Aloqa

What they do: Aloqa is a mobile service that takes user preferences (for restaurants, entertainment, activities, etc.) combines that with contact info from various social networking applications and then proactively notifies users of nearby people, places and things that should be of interest.

The point here is that users don’t search things out, rather stuff that they like is pushed to them.

Why is it important? Search doesn’t translate well to the smartphone.

What does this have to do with IT? As of now, not much. However, the recognition that PC-style tasks like search don’t work well on constrained devices is important. Expect to see this sort of technology creeping into such things as mobile SFA and CRM.

Platforms: iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, Windows Mobile and J2ME.

Customers: Aloqa claims over 300,000 consumer users, as well as 10 enterprise customers.

Competitors: Loopt, uLocate Communications’ Where app, Geodelic and TweakerSoft’s Around Me.

Funding: $1.5 million of Series A funding from Wellington Partners.

CEO: CEO Sanjeev Agrawal was formerly head of Product Marketing at Google and VP of Products at Tellme.

Headquarters: Palo Alto, CA and Munich, Germany

Jeff Vance is a freelance writer and the founder of Sandstorm Media, a writing and marketing services firm focused on emerging technology trends. If you have ideas for future stories or would just like to chat, contact him at jeff@sandstormmedia.net or visit www.sandstormmedia.net.