Given the much-publicized iPhone 4 bumper case give-away -- the cases are supposed to correct the smartphone’s reception problems that occur when people cover a certain blind spot on the device -- should small businesses be taking more care protecting their investments in smartphones?
Chances are you've equipped your employees with smartphones -- arguably the most important tech tool for on-the-go workers these days -- but what are you doing to protect the investment?
Not only could you break the smartphone from accidental drops, but depending on the extent of the damage you could also lose valuable data that resides on it.
Perhaps our BlackBerrys, iPhones, Android devices and other smartphones are more susceptible to damage because we're rarely without them. That is, the daily bumps and grinds can easily take a toll on an unprotected device, its screen or keyboard. Plus, a case -- such as the free wraparound "bumper" offered to iPhone 4 owners (until Sept. 30) -- could also encourage a stronger cellular signal.
It's an insurance policy
So, should you preemptively spend the cash on your employees' smartphones?
"Yes, if you think of it as insurance," says Tim Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies, a Campbell, Calif.-based firm that provides industry analysis for the tech sector. "It isn't much of an investment for [small and mid-sized businesses], yet it can go a long way," Bajarin adds.
Bajarin says some smartphones are more prone to damage than others. "Phones are often tested for 2- to 3-foot drops, but keep in mind the bigger the screen, such as the iPhone, the more likely it could be problem if dropped on their face."
Touchscreens are also more vulnerable than non-touch ones, as they typically don't have an extra layer of plastic protection, adds Bajarin.
That said, Apple maintains the iPhone 4's reinforced glass is said to be up to 30 times harder than plastic. "Generally speaking, BlackBerrys are less prone to damage because of their QWERTY keyboards and smaller display," says Bajarin, who admits he's a fan of OtterBox-branded cases, "especially for those who need a more rugged solution."
Depends on the industry
Tim Doherty, a research analyst for the small and mid-sized business market at IDC, a Framingham, Mass. research firm, says protective cases are a good idea across the board, but believes some industries might benefit from them more than others. "For white collar workers, they'll likely be slipping a BlackBerry into a pocket, and it's probably a moderate risk of drop or damage," says Doherty. "Still, for a very small business, mobilizing employees may be a significant investment, and so a basic rubberized case makes a lot of sense."
For blue collar workers, who may be throwing a device in a tool box or truck console it makes more sense, explains Doherty. "Vendors like OtterBox can turn a smartphone into a ruggedized device, but in many cases a business would be better served provisioning truly rugged devices like those offered by Motorola."
Doherty says a move towards embracing these devices can benefit companies by improving productivity with little or no cost to the company. "This also removes the company's liability to replace damaged devices," he adds.
Are cases overrated?
Michael Gartenberg, a seasoned analyst and partner with the Altimeter Group in San Mateo, Calif., agrees a case can serve to both protect and personalize a smartphone, but he doesn't believe they're an essential accessory.
"Most phones are rugged enough to handle the usual bumps and abrasions of everyday life and most screens are quite scratch resistant," says Gartenberg. "Using normal care will keep most users phones working and pristine for their usable life."
Gartenberg also believes "the greater protection, the greater likelihood to ruin the phone form factor and aesthetics" of the smartphone, which should also be a consideration for potential adopters.