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Mobile-first development for enterprises growing

With a growing number of remote workers, businesses want vendors to focus on mobile-first applications for unified communications.

Businesses are employing more remote workers, leaving vendors scrambling to keep up with the demand for unified communications (UC) technology that prioritizes mobility.

Mitel Networks Corp. is the latest vendor to release applications targeting the mobile-centric enterprise crowd. This month, the Ottawa-based company announced that it is taking a mobile-first approach to enterprise communications, focusing on "real-time communication and the cloud."

But what exactly does the elusive catch phrase, mobile-first, mean?

Mobile-first development can be described as applications designed for a tablet or smartphone, rather than a desktop screen. Until recently, the mobile experience was merely an afterthought. A true mobile-first application caters to enterprise employees who use mobile devices as their primary work tools.

Vendors with roots in the PC era have found it difficult to keep up with the demand for mobile UC. That's because reworking products for the small screen is a technological challenge.

Mobile-first development as a competitive differentiator

This year, tech advisory company Gartner Inc., based in Stamford, Conn., placed extra weight on vendors that offered mobility-first options when evaluating products for a coveted spot in the firm's Magic Quadrant for UC.  

Only four of the 11 vendors listed in the UC Magic Quadrant had at least some mobile UC capabilities. They included Cisco, IBM, Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. and NEC Corp.

"It's becoming [important] and continues to increase in importance, as the number of people using their mobile devices for unified communications increases," said Gartner analyst Bern Elliot, who co-authored the report. "User expectations are continuing to escalate, and people are demanding more functionality and easier-to-use functionality in their mobile devices."

But vendors are grappling with the quickly changing landscape of enterprise technology. About 20% of workers use a mobile device as their primary tool for communications, according to Irwin Lazar, analyst for Nemertes Research, based in Mokena, Ill.  

And that number, Lazar said, is rising.

"I do think you'll see an increasing trend toward vendors pushing mobile solutions ahead, or at least at the same time as their desktop offerings," Lazar said.

Mitel mobile apps

Indeed, traditional vendors are releasing mobile apps that complement UC products designed for the desktop. Mitel released an application, called MiContact Center, which provides cloud-based communications for large and small companies, and can work across brands within a single company.

Mitel also released a hospitality application that lets hotel guests use their smartphones to unlock their rooms, access voicemail on room phones and take advantage of a number of location-based features.

Startups have been particularly adventurous in the mobile-first space. Some examples include San Francisco-based Switch Communications Inc., which built a business phone system for Google Apps users, and Switzerland-based Wire, which sells stereo group calling.

Another mobile-first development startup that has gotten attention is Boston-based Talko Inc., founded by ex-Microsoft chief software architect Ray Ozzie. Talko enables one-on-one and group calls that can be recorded, tagged and augmented with photos during the call.

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