I am not an expert in mobile computing by any stretch so I took this opportunity to speak to Jim Balsillie, CEO of Research In Motion Technologies (RIM). RIM is the market leader in hand-held wireless devices, best known for their Blackberry, and I figured they would know what all these millions of people are using them for.
RIM is seeing that generic email is by far the most prevalent use of wireless data. The benefits are largely timeliness and convenience - you can do your email in the back of the cab on the way to the airport or while you're getting you're haircut. It makes sense that any application that delivers time sensitive and concise information would therefore make sense for use with a wireless device, however it might be hard to argue that a salesperson would not make his or her numbers because they couldn't be reached by email anytime anywhere. I suspect the ROI would be hard to calculate.
Just for interest's sake, I asked what the next big wireless application wave is going to be. Jim says that your wireless device will become your wallet with a built-in banking machine, ie: move money into it, wave it over a reader to pay for items, use it as your personal ID instead of all the things your currently carry in your wallet.
When asked specifically about whether use of wireless for marketing applications was real or just hype, he said that the technologies needed to do effective wireless marketing, ie: location dependent ads, etc, is just not readily available and that in his opinion, it will be years before it becomes heavily used, if at all. The "if at all" is tied to some skepticism as to the consumer's willingness to receive ads on his or her wireless device.
So not quite the perfect answer to your question, but interesting all the same.
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This was first published in June 2001