Realizing that the phone is now a computer, or possibly that ubiquitous wireless networks mean that computers can go anywhere, IBM said today it would spend $100 million on research over the next five years to improve mobile communications for businesses and consumers worldwide. This is a piddling amount for IBM (it spent $1 billion on its green effort), but Big Blue does have the street cred among enterprise customers to push mobile platforms for corporate computing in a big way if it so chooses. Currently mobile innovation is primarily benefiting consumers, who can use mobile devices to read books, find out the name of songs, shop and even track their fitness goals. Enterprise adoption of novel applications and phones, meanwhile, is still lagging over concerns about corporate security. IBM could help change that.
IBM’s four areas of focus will be analytics; security; privacy and user interface; and navigation. I think its areas of focus should be around virtualized desktops for mobile phones; authentication and security when it comes to using mobiles to access programs in the cloud; and device security, notably how to protect sensitive information kept on mobile devices. As for user interface research, IBM sold off many of its speech recognition patents to Nuance Communications, which is where I think IBM had the potential to make the biggest impact.
So IBM’s research will add $100 million to wireless efforts over the next five years — $4 million less than venture firms invested in the wireless industry for the entire month of May, according to research by Rutberg & Co. Such an investment is unlikely to change the industry, but it could lead to IBM buying up some startups — if its research convinces it that there’s a high-value software or services play that allows Big Blue to make money in mobile, that is.