Hong Kong on forefront of mobile wave

Stefan Hammond and Teresa Leung
17 Oct 2011

Hong Kong, with its mix of switched-on smartphone users and agile developers, seems a natural place for mobile enterprise application development. And so it is—according to a recent poll by Google (which partnered with Ipsos Research on a global research survey of smartphone usage, including 11 Asia-Pacific markets), 35% of all mobile phone users in Hong Kong use smartphones. And Hong Kong smartphone users use their phones mostly at home and at work with 63% and 56% using their devices at these respective locations over the period of seven days, said the survey.

A decade ago, few smartphones existed—some used PDAs for enterprise work, but they were far from elegant. Now, with 3G networks and Wi-Fi access making work on-the-go easier, Apple rules the space with their iPhones and iPads. Maybe in another decade Android will have made greater inroads, but there is no stopping the rush to develop mobile applications which enhance employees’ productivity in imaginative ways.

Any MTR carriage will have plenty of folks glued to their iPhones, but iPads are a bit unwieldy in cramped spaces. Where the iPad shines is in executives’ briefcases. We’ve held events where speakers ask us where they can plug in their iPad for their presentation. Senior tech executives read from iPads for their speeches, use them as a repository for their daily calendars and all the material they need for that day. As to whether an iPad will serve a laptop “replacement,” there’s a difference of opinion. But its value as an enterprise work-tool is seldom questioned—not by the busy, tech-savvy executives we routinely interact with who carry them everywhere.

Net-like learning curve

What we’re seeing in Hong Kong’s mobile space today is much like the early years of the Internet. At first, the Net here was a concept people had heard of, but didn’t really understand, let alone use. These were days when you’d have to call people, they’d be out, and their minder would painstakingly take down your name (remember “how to spell?” and spelling your name out letter by letter, to be corrected/repeated? For some of us doing business here in Hong Kong, this was a daily ordeal). Then they’d call you back, and you’d be out. Once people figured out e-mail, communication became much more efficient. Then Web sites began to gain traction for real business. There was a process of evolution.

With enterprise mobility, we have a new learning curve. The advantage is that businesspeople now understand how important the Internet is: how a single multilingual Web site can answer hundreds of questions a minute, how access can be protected through passwords and hard-tokens for two-factor authentication. Rent, utility-bills and even income taxes can be paid online nowadays in Hong Kong. “How to spell?” has been consigned to the dust heap of history (don’t forget to recycle your fax machine when you get around to it).

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