It’s no secret that smartphones, spurred by the introduction of Apple’s iPhone and higher-speed data networks, are experiencing unprecedented consumer demand, and that demand is filtering into the enterprise, where workers are increasingly bringing in their personal devices to perform job functions.

The trend not only is true for private enterprises, but also public entities that are beginning to augment mission-critical services with smartphones to exchange and receive information via text, video, voice or e-mail. A variety of third-party applications have emerged to give workers an ever-increasing range of tools to perform their job duties. The line between personal and business communications has blurred.

“Government organizations will increasingly feel the pressures that private organizations have been facing for the last two years around their employees wanting to bring their own devices into the workplace,” said Philippe Winthrop, managing director of the Enterprise Mobility Foundation.

Since the iPhone raised the bar — more than 200,000 apps are available for it — content providers even have begun to target first responders. For example, Raytheon — not the traditional apps provider — has begun developing iPhone, iPod and Droid applications for emergency personnel. Right now it is working on a situational awareness application to leverage Apple’s rapidly growing mobile content and technologies, such as a compass, global positioning system, accelerometer, 3G networks, Wi-Fi and multiple touchscreens.

Earlier this year, patrol boats with the emergency-management division of Santa Rosa County, Fla., began using an app from Xora, which runs on Sprint’s network, called TimeTrack Gold. The app enables the water-recognizance team to find oil residue in the Gulf of Mexico after the massive BP oil leak, take pictures and transmit them with GPS coordinates attached.

David Krebs, analyst with VDC Research, points out that smartphones and the iPod Touch, which includes Wi-Fi access, are catching on in the military sector as well, to the point where the U.S. military is investing heavily in application development training and education programs and recently launched a “new apps” contest. Meanwhile, the iPod Touch is being used for field applications, such as ballistics calculations for snipers. And several new small form factor devices designed specifically for military apps are leveraging operating platforms such as Google’s Android.

“While remaining mindful of the critical security and encryption requirements necessary to protect ground-soldier operations, the need for access to information to enable real-time decision-making by lower-echelon soldiers, captains and lieutenants is immense,” Krebs said.

These developments are being spurred by the intense demand for smartphones within the consumer market. Research firm IDC predicts that 269.6 million smartphones will ship this year, compared with 173.5 million units shipped in 2009.

Smartphones have become a key growth driver for operators because those subscribers consume more services each month.Their strategy: Align themselves with key brands and offerings to drive subscriber growth. Accordingly, the country’s major operators have flagship devices tied to their services. AT&T has an exclusive deal with Apple to bring the iPhone to market, Verizon Wireless is selling a line of smartphones called Droid that operate on the Android platform and Sprint ushered in the country’s first WiMAX-enabled smartphone with the Android-based HTC EVO.

With smartphones carrying a dizzying array of applications and capabilities along with network capabilities, it’s worth a look at the attributes of some of the top smartphones: the Apple iPhone 4, the Droid X and the HTC EVO.

Operating system: When it comes to operating systems, Apple’s iOS4 and Google’s Android appear to be relatively even, although Apple’s iPhone has the larger number of available apps with more than 200,000, compared with Android’s more than 70,000. But because of the rapidly increasing number of Android-based devices coming to market, including the Droid X and HTC EVO, app developers are stepping up their efforts for that platform.

The Droid X and the HTC EVO recently joined a small group of devices running the latest version of Android 2.2, code named Froyo, and the most significant improvement of the OS is support for Adobe Flash Player 10.1 for smartphones. The Apple iOS4 does not support Flash. For many users the addition of Flash is a big deal. Flash software is designed to give users the ability to surf the Web, watch videos and access rich media. Flash player features include built-in support for 3D, sound, color correction and streaming video.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs has criticized Adobe Flash Player, calling it unreliable. He also has questioned its security, reliability, performance and power management. “We know from painful experience that letting a third-party layer of software come between the platform and the developer ultimately results in sub-standard apps and hinders the enhancement and progress of the platform,” Jobs explained in a statement earlier this year defending his decision to taka a pass on Flash. Instead, Apple supports the embedding of video in HTML pages.

Network: The iPhone 4 is available on the AT&T network, which took a beating throughout 2009 with customer complaints over dropped calls and poor traffic-data management in some large metro markets like New York and San Francisco. AT&T has said that it has added more capacity, but clearly the operator continues to struggle with the growth of data traffic thanks to the iPhone. Recently, AT&T instituted tiered pricing plans, with the most expensive plan being $25 for 2GB of data, on top of the cost for a voice plan. The smartphone operates on AT&T’s various flavors of GSM, including the higher-speed HSPA network that offers peak data rates of 7.2 Mbps in most major markets.

Meanwhile, the Droid X is available on Verizon’s CDMA 1X EV-DO Rev. A network. Verizon’s network generally is touted as being more extensive than its competitors, and it isn’t suffering from capacity problems brought about by smartphones. Verizon does not have a data-usage cap for its smartphone offerings and users pay $30 for unlimited usage in addition to a voice plan.

The HTC EVO is available on Sprint’s CDMA 1X EV-DO Rev. A and Clearwire’s all-IP WiMAX networks, which Sprint leverages as a reseller. WiMAX is available in several cities but still has yet to make an entrance in very large markets such as Los Angeles and New York. Sprint said that the ideal pricing plan for Evo customers is its Everything Data plan for $69.99. Customers are charged a mandatory $10 add-on fee for accessing the WiMAX network.

Earlier this year, Walt Mossberg, the technology writer for the Wall Street Journal, tested the speeds of all three networks in Baltimore, where WiMAX is available. Mossberg said that he averaged 3.4 Mbps downstream via WiMAX and under 1 Mbps upstream. Sprint has advertised that average users will see downstream data speeds of between 3 and 6 Mbps on the WiMAX network.

Still, the EVO was faster than the Apple iPhone on AT&T’s network, while the Droid Incredible, another Verizon device, averaged about 2 Mbps downstream in the same markets that Mossberg tested the EVO.

Wi-Fi and video: The iPhone also is Wi-Fi-capable and can access — for free — AT&T’s vast network of Wi-Fi hotspots. However, the Droid X and the HTC EVO can rebroadcast signals, which enables users to create personal hotspots that are capable of connecting Wi-Fi-enabled devices. The personal hotspot capability comes with a monthly fee on both Verizon’s and Sprint’s networks.

When it comes to video features, both the iPhone and the EVO feature a front and back camera to support video chat. The Droid X only features a back camera but includes a third microphone for better sound quality when shooting video. Both the iPhone 4 and the Droid X feature noise-cancelling capabilities via a second microphone.

There are many other features that might seem minor but could help sway potential buyers one way or the other.

Still, consumer smartphones often don’t cut it in the enterprise and first responder sectors in terms of durability and battery life. Krebs, however, believes that as more enterprises embrace smartphones, the demand for more rugged, durable versions will grow and vendors will respond.

Already, Motorola Solutions debuted the ES4000 enterprise digital assistant in June. The device is designed to enable mobile workers to execute business functions on a more hardened device. Last month, Motorola, on the consumer handset side of its business, introduced its second rugged smartphone based on the Android operating system called Defy. The device will run on T-Mobile USA’s network and features a 3.7-inch touchscreen that is water and scratch resistant. In August, the vendor introduced the Motorola i1 with Sprint. Meanwhile, competitor Intermec introduced the CS40, a ruggedized device that looks like a consumer smartphone. The device will be available in the fourth quarter. The CS40 is a quad-band handset for voice calls and supports HSPA for data transfers up to 7.2 Mbps.

Despite the higher cost of ruggedized devices, there is a clear demand for them, Krebs said. His research indicates that sales of rugged handheld mobile computers exploded in 2009, with the market increasing by 30% or more in certain segments.

Meanwhile, prices are falling because competition in the space has become intense. As a result, expect many players to begin offering device “suites” — such as the one Motorola created this year — that offer a range of ruggedness for different market segments. This would give enterprises the opportunity to reduce purchase costs by tailoring device choices and features.

Truly rugged devices have yet to feature the operating systems, such as Android, that are popular with consumers. Instead, they continue to be based on Windows Mobile 6.5, which has an embedded base of application developers catering to the enterprise. But with Microsoft developing a new OS, called Windows Phone 7, based on a brand new platform that is not backward compatible with Windows 6.5, end users are beginning to question the future of the platform. Microsoft has indicated, however, that it is committed to the older WinMo platform through the rollout of its Windows embedded handheld initiative.

“One of the challenges is migrating the (WinMo 6.5) interface forward so that it can take advantage of Windows Phone 7,” Krebs said. “Motorola (Solutions) and Intermec, Motorola’s largest competitor, have huge investments in the Windows Mobile platform. ... [But] moving forward, everyone is asking themselves how long they can offer this.” Steve Schmid, director of product management with Motorola Solutions, which soon will split from the company’s consumer handset business, said that Windows Mobile still is the operating system of choice.

However, he conceded that the vendor does have more customers talking about the alternatives and wanting to understand Microsoft’s rollout of Windows Phone 7.

"We do look alternatives beyond Windows Mobile, but it’s still the dominant operating system,” he said.

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