Until recently, mobile email has fallen into one of two camps, broadly speaking.
For corporations, or people who were really serious about accessing their email on the move, were the Blackberry users. Of course, the options in this group have expanded beyond Blackberrys to include Windows Mobile, Palm and other OS’s, but Blackberrys were the trail-blazers and are arguably still the standard setters.
Membership of this group requires that you have an email account on a corporate-grade mail system. Most road warriors will have MS Exchange mail servers, although Lotus Domino and others have presence here too. If your company isn’t big enough to warrant it’s own mail server, then leasing an account on a mail provider’s server is a popular option. The other significant cost has been for mobile data, which until the last couple of years has been quite high (at least in the UK). Overall it’s a relatively small monthly outlay for a business to justify, but the person on the street is more reluctant to double or triple their mobile bill for the sake of email.
Lets just have a peek brigade
Our second group are those who quite like being able to check their emails if they need to, but only on an occasional basis and only if it’s free or very low cost. Typically the man/woman on the street who likes showing off to their mates. They may use a browser interface, but more likely will use IMAP or even POP and a mobile email client. The occasional use will most likely drift into no use because it might cost some money or be a bit awkward to use. Sometimes it will actually prove beneficial and they will cross the Rubicon into the road warrior camp.
There is another way
Over the last couple of years in the UK there have been a couple of developments that have allowed a third group to form. For a start, increasing demand for mobile data, and the huge uptake in USB dongles expecially, has caused mobile data costs to come down to consumer-attractive levels. Second, handsets have improved so that Blackberrys and other business-oriented phones are not the only ones with usable email clients. Slide-out qwerty keyboards, and iPhone-style full screen displays (with ‘soft’ keyboards that are actually usable) have made inroads into the consumer market.
To digress slightly, my personal view is that mobiles took some time to get to a point where they were small enough, and then went a bit further! Now people have realised that a really small phone is really easy to lose! Now that manufacturers don’t lose out if their mobile is not smaller than the opposition, some real usability work can be applied. Of course, the iPhone is the ultimate embodiment of this.
Back to our third way. Lower data costs and consumer-friendly phones with good email clients means that now, anyone can get at their email (and update Facebook, and Tweet, and, and, and) whenever and wherever they want. Maybe not in as secure a fashion that would satisfy a corporate IT department, but plenty good enough for the typical SME.
So what’s the Four Lakes take on this? Well, our SME-oriented email solution, Four Lakes Advanced Mail, is based on Google Apps. This essentially means that Google Mail servers handle all mail for your domain. This automatically give you POP, IMAP and web access to your mail. Now imagine a mobile device with a great email client using IMAP to look at your email. Couple that with a generous mobile data allowance (many UK providers will give 500MB a month for £5, which is plenty for reasonable use) and there is no reason why you can’t use your iPhone or Nokia or whatever to keep tabs on your emails.
But (you know there’d be a ‘but’ right?), even more recently a newcomer to the market has improved metters even more. Google’s new Android MobileOS has given those enlightened Google Apps (or GMail) users an opportunity to experience more than mere IMAP email. Instead they can synch email, conacts and calendar over the air.
How well does it work? I’m not sure yet, as there are unanswered questions (online at least) over the mix of Google Apps, GMail and Google Accounts that I have. But, committed as I am to bringing you all the answers, I will shortly place an order for an Android phone (probably the HTC Hero) and will blog my experiences. Watch this space!