Mitch Roob oversees a state agency with a $6.5 billion budget and thousands of employees who deliver a range of services to more than a million Hoosiers.
And he'd be lost without his BlackBerry.
He is just one of the many Indianapolis professionals who use enhanced mobile devices, or smartphones, to keep tabs on their
work and increase their productivity away from the office.
"I haven't named it yet, [but] it's pretty much a part of me," Roob said of his smartphone, which hasn't been more than an arm's length away since 2001.
Indeed, BlackBerry devotees helped the ubiquitous device earn its "CrackBerry" nickname--a reference to the habit-forming drug crack cocaine--and the honor of being Webster's New World College Dictionary New Word of the Year in 2006.
Roob said the term is accurate. He uses his BlackBerry in the bathroom and while riding his bike, among other places. And although he won't admit using it when he's driving, he doesn't deny it, either.
Since the arrival of then-bulky mobile phones in the early 1980s, technology has continued to evolve, changing the way people work and communicate. Cameras and MP3 players now are standard on many phones, and experts agree so-called converged devices will become even more indispensable.
Already available with GPS technology and software that provides instant access to everything from restaurant listings to entertainment options, mobile phones are even more advanced overseas.
Consumers in Japan, for example, can equip their phones with ID chips and use them as credit cards. Residents of South Korea, meanwhile, use the devices to buy movie and train tickets.
And professionals aren't the only people to latch on to smartphones, said Mike Walkley, senior research analyst at Minneapolis-based Piper Jaffray & Co.
"You're getting a new group of people--from young students to soccer moms--who want to stay productive," he said.
Worldwide sales figures reflect the growing popularity. Consumers will buy 200 million smartphones this year, according to projections from Connecticut-based research firm Gartner Inc., twice as many as in 2000.
All told, smartphones make up about 13 percent of the global cell phone market. By 2011, they're expected to represent one-third of all cell phones sold, said Tuong Nguyen, Gartner's mobile devices analyst.
Brightpoint Inc. CEO Bob Laikin sees even more potential. In a conference call this month with analysts who cover the Plainfield-based wireless device distributor, Laikin predicted that about 75 percent of mobile phone sales in "matured" markets will be smartphones within five years.
Help or hindrance?
Still, the question remains: Do smartphones really make our jobs easier, or do they hinder real-life communication skills?
Jeff Fanter, vice president of marketing and communications at Ivy Tech Community College's Indianapolis campus, said he's more accessible and efficient with a BlackBerry at his side.
"From a media-relations standpoint, [people] need answers quickly," he said, adding that he responds to about 150 e-mails per day from his mobile phone.
Even so, he admits that BlackBerry use has drawbacks.
"Because I've set a precedent of being so accessible, people expect that," Fanter said. "It almost creates this addiction."
He admits to checking the device almost compulsively, even when he's on vacation. About 10 waking hours is the longest he has gone without logging on.
If the BlackBerry didn't make Fanter's job easier, he said, he wouldn't use it.
"It's easier to respond to e-mails during weekends and vacation as opposed to waiting till I get back in the office," he said.
Mike Reed, a smartphone user for two years, said the device helps him relax more during his time away from the office. As vice president of facilities at Columbus-based Irwin Bank, he's selective about when he uses his BlackBerry.
"I can go on vacation and spend a few minutes an hour or day [using the BlackBerry], and when I come back, I don't have 400 e-mails to respond to," he said. "I'd rather spend five minutes fixing a problem right now than having that problem fester into something that takes five days [to solve]."
Still, etiquette experts argue that the use of multimedia devices can become obnoxious.
Although no hard-and-fast standard for smartphone etiquette has been established, users should think about when it's appropriate to pull out a BlackBerry and answer e-mail, said Anthony Cawdron, event coordinator at Purdue University and etiquette coach.
"If it's a business meeting and people are expecting you to do that, then it's acceptable," he said.
But in some situations, smartphones can serve as a distraction and a nuisance, said Mary Starvaggi, a consultant at Cincinnati-based The Etiquette Advantage.
"If you're in a social situation, you should be social," she said. "[Using] a BlackBerry is not social. I think that there's a very fine line between [a smartphone] making you more efficient and interfering with your interaction with people."
But smartphone etiquette continues to evolve as more people use the devices.
"First, [smartphones] were kind of a novelty," Cawdron said. "Now, people sort of take it in stride that you'll be checking e-mail while carrying on a conversation with them."
Even so, he said, smartphone users should try to be mindful of others and still use formal letter-writing techniques in e-mails.
"Try to still use real English" and not electronic chat abbreviations, Cawdron said. "Your e-mail is saying something about you. You're still representing your organization."
Driving the market
As the demand for quick communication increases, the line between formal communication and instant chat could continue to blur, along with the devices used to send messages.
"[The devices] are getting harder to classify," said Gartner analyst Tuong Nguyen.
Industry definitions of these so-called smartphones vary. Some use the term to describe any device used for more than phone calls. Others define it as any phone with a full alphabetical keyboard. Still others, including Nguyen, reserve the description for devices with built-in operating systems and full Internet capabilities.
Nokia, producer of the popular e62 smartphone, now defines all its mobile handsets as "multimedia devices."
Whatever the terminology, there's little doubt phones are getting smarter. When cellular devices were introduced in the early 1980s, just making a phone call was an accomplishment.
The first handheld mobile phone hit the market in 1983, weighing 2 pounds and costing almost $4,000. It didn't allow much mobility but was more convenient than other cell phones of the time, which weighed more than 20 pounds and were designed for use in cars.
The '90s saw the advent of smaller, sleeker phones, fueled by more efficient batteries and electronics. In recent years, "fashion" phones such as the Motorola RAZR have become popular.
Ontario-based Research in Motion released the first voice-equipped BlackBerry more than five years ago, and the phone's popularity has been on the rise since.
Factors contributing to the increasing popularity of smartphones are manifold, experts said, but one of the key events in their evolution was the June 2007 release of Apple's iPhone.
The touch-screen iPhone, which has a built-in iPod along with full Internet access, really showed consumers what phones are capable of, Piper Jaffray's Walkley said. "Right about the time the iPhone launched, we saw a huge jump in the popularity of multimedia devices."
That popularity also has been fueled by increased promotions surrounding the devices and their various capabilities, said Ittai Kidron, analyst for New York-based Oppenheimer & Co. Inc. Mobile providers can boost revenue by charging customers for services such as Internet time.
"It's a combination of both" increased promotion and consumer demand, Kidron said. "You as an individual want to do more with the phone that you have, and your carrier wants you to use their network more so [it] can bill you for it."
Additionally, tech-savvy young people accustomed to e-mail and instant messaging are becoming a greater portion of the cell phone market.
Robust features such as GPS navigation, now available in the Motorola's ViaMoto and Televigation's TeleNav, raise the question of whether voice capabilities eventually will take a back seat to more sophisticated features.
What happens next is anyone's guess, but experts expect smartphones will continue to evolve.
The ID-chip technology already available in Japan and South Korea may serve as a hint of things to come. Kidron said those features likely would take "a couple [of] years at least" to migrate to North America.
Although companies such as San Diego-based Qualcomm will continue to focus on innovating mobile technology, carriers might begin to focus less on introducing new products and more on educating consumers on what's already available, Nguyen said.
"There might not be some kind of crazy innovation that's going to blow people away" in the next few years, he said.
And as smartphones take a larger portion of the market share, their features will begin to become more common in all mobile devices, he said.
"I can't tell you" what the product of the future is, Nguyen said. "If anyone could tell you for certain, they would be rich."