For This Meeting Please Turn On Your Smart Phones
By Mike McCall

Posted March 06, 2013

The days of starting a meeting with “Please turn off and put away your cell phones” are over. Smart phones are common these days in the business world and they can do just about anything. Take this example: my iPhone allows me to scan optical bar codes and tells me whether there is a better deal online for an item I want to purchase.

Today, smart phones are front-line devices for collaborative work. With their growing sophistication we’re starting to see more interest in using them effectively to make meetings more productive.

I’m currently working with a company that is organizing a large conference for their customers. They’d like to use smart phones to conduct simple voting, brainstorming and soliciting feedback on presentations. They did a quick poll to find out which were the top 5 smart phones in use by their clients and came up with the following:

  • RIM Blackberry 8100 (Blackberry OS)
  • Apple iPhone (Apple iPhone OS)
  • Palm Centro (Palm OS)
  • Samsung Instinct (Proprietary Samsung/Sprint OS)
  • Nokia E71

They then asked me to consider the technical considerations of using this wide variety of phones. I determined that there are two possible hurdles to overcome.

Web Access
It’s finally becoming mainstream to have folks bring their own laptops to a meeting and hook them up to a network. Only a few years ago this could be a nightmare, as you had to reconfigure the network settings for each computer for the meeting, only to have the computers no longer work when people returned to their offices. DHCP and Wi-Fi networks have made this networking task much easier.

Smart phones introduce a new issue: whether there will be decent reception in the meeting room or whether everyone will end up huddling in the one corner with adequate reception. Even worse, because different phones have different providers, some might be able to get reception and others may not. As my client was happy to learn, more and more phones now allow for Wi-Fi connectivity to the Internet/Intranet. This means that rooms without cell phone reception are no longer a problem. If no existing Wi-Fi connection exists, you can set up a wireless Wi-Fi hub with relative ease that will connect to Intranet or Internet applications.

Now that smart phones can communicate with each other through common servers over the Internet or an Intranet, social apps like Twitter or more specialized meeting collaboration tools like FacilitatePro can run on phones rather than laptops, using either their provider’s cell network or Wi-Fi. If internet connectivity is not possible or not desirable for security reasons, you can host your collaborative tool on a local laptop server and provide a wireless Wi-Fi hub.

Device Independence
When using laptops with collaborative meeting tools there is the issue that some require specific hardware and software configurations for the application to work. It’s important to assess device compatibility ahead of time so that there won’t be any nasty surprises as the meeting starts.

The same issue exists for smart phones. Make sure that you pick applications that aren’t device dependent. An iPhone may have a great application or interface that would be ideal for your meeting but if the tool doesn’t also work with a Blackberry or Palm or Instinct then the meeting may be a bust. The solution you choose must not only work on most or all smart phones but also have a simple enough interface to look good regardless of the different screen resolutions of the devices.

Rule of thumb: select tools that are simple, easy to use and rely on basic smart phone browser capabilities. That ensures the greatest likelihood that your smart phone enhanced meeting will be a success.

Please Turn on Your Smart Phone
Two technical issues should be considered when using smart phones with web collaboration tools: 1) the ability to communicate with each other over a reliable network and 2) selecting tools that behave with smart phones from a variety of manufacturers. Today solutions for both of these issues exist. As meeting organizers, we are no longer required to start a meeting by asking everyone to “please turn off your cell phones.” Instead we can ask everyone to “Please turn on your smart phone, open your browser and go to the following site. Let’s collaborate!”

Posted by Mike McCall