Motorola i1 gives Push To Talk users a smartphone option

Businesses that outfit field workers with push to talk (PTT) phones now have the option of issuing a touch screen smartphone to employees, with the Motorola i1 from Telus Mobility.

The i1 is powered by Google’s Android v1.5 operating system and sports a 3.1″ touch screen. It is the first PTT Android device and the second smartphone offered on Telus’ Mike network, built on Motorola’s iDEN infrastructure. The BlackBerry Curve 8350i is also offered by Telus, as well as many other Motorola phones that are more basic in function.

Field workers employ PTT devices for their convenient walkie-talkie style communication. Any two PTT phones within the network coverage area can exchange short, real-time, voice messages and send pictures and text. Now those users can get those features in a smartphone device similar to phones targeting consumers.

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Telus currently operates three cell phone networks – the iDEN network, the CDMA format network, and its newest HSPA format network. Demand for the iDEN network is still strong and the carrier is committed to supporting it, according to Puja Subrun, director of SMB & mobility solutions marketing at Telus.

“We have seen continued success with the introduction of the BlackBerry Curve 8350i and based on the market anticipation and interest, we believe the rugged Motorola i1 will see similar successes,” he says.

There’s room in the Canadian wireless market for the iDEN network, says Kevin Restivo, an analyst for IDC’s Worldwide Mobile Phone Tracker. Adding an Android device to portfolio will help to prevent iDEN users from leaving to use smartphones on other networks.

“There are absolutely businesses that rely on push-to-talk technology. More often that not these are small businesses that have very specific communications need,” he says. “They depend not just on the walkie-talkie functionality but on the ruggedized manufacture of these devices.”

Though Android v1.5 is an outdated version of Google’s mobile OS, Motorola needed a stable platform to work on to add iDEN features too. Motorola has spruced up the user interface with extra features such as an Exchange global address lookup from the e-mail client. The phone also has PTT features embedded throughout its menus, so users can choose PTT as an option from the contacts list or call history for example.

That, and it might just be the toughest smartphone on the market, says Glenn Kennedy, national account manager with Motorola Mobility Canada Ltd.

“This is Motorola’s first smartphone to meet the full Mill Spec requirements,” he says. “It has to meet specs for shock, vibration, blowing rain… I’ve done lots of demonstrations in terms of beating it up and it’s a very solid phone.”Extra-tough glass means the phone’s screen will survive a four-foot drop onto a concrete floor. That makes it a good choice for workers in tough environments, or just clumsy consumers. The phone will be sold in Telus retails stores for $149.99 on a three-year contract.

The phone has 260 MB internal memory and can be expanded to 32 GB with a micro SD card. It has a 5 MP camera with an LED flash and autofocus. It supports WiFi, Bluetooth and GPS.

Telus’ iDEN network is limited in coverage compared to its other nation-wide networks. It mostly resides in Alberta and southern Ontario, creeping up into parts of southern Quebec. But for workers that operate in those areas, the limited coverage is not a problem, Restivo says.”I’ve had contractors at my house using Mike devices because they spend almost all of there time in the GTA (greater Toronto area) where coverage is not a problem at all,” he says.

Motorola’s i1 may be a sign that more smartphones are coming to iDEN networks.

“Telus remains committed to the Mike network and we are continually evaluating our device development roadmap, which includes smartphone devices and some exciting new offerings coming in the new year,” Subrun says.

Motorola is the dominant phone manufacturer for the iDEN network format it invented. It sold eight out of every 10 PTT devices in Canada in 2009, according to an IDC study. Although iDEN network subscribers had been on the decline, 2009 showed 101 per cent growth compared to the previous year.

PTT devices are used by government workers, film crews, construction workers, oil and gas workers, police departments, and trucking companies.

Four Android apps for field workers

  • Android TimeCard – keep track of work hours and easily submit through email
  • Handy construction calculators – 20 useful construction calculators including calculations for drywall, asphalt, roofing, etc
  • Electricial Wiring Pro for electricians – calculations and reference information used on a daily basis by Electricians and Electrical designers
  • Concrete Calculator – calculates the required number of cubic yards for a slab

Brian Jackson is a Senior Writer at ITBusiness.ca. Follow him on Twitter, read his blog, and check out the IT Business Facebook Page.

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