DAVOS, Switzerland (Reuters) - Those discussing the “Shared Norms for the New Reality” in Davos this week need only look around them to see one such ‘reality’: low-cost smart devices are sweeping away clunky old computers throughout the political and business world.
The 2,500 conference-goers hanging on every word from Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet and others will be tapping away at tablet computers and smartphones such as Apple Inc’s iPads and iPhones and devices made by Samsung and Motorola running Google’s Android software.
They will be updating Facebook pages and broadcasting 140-character outbursts to the world via the micro-blogging service Twitter.
They’ll also be saving money in the process — not usually top of the list of concerns when it comes to the personal habits of the world’s elite, who are gathering over the next few days to discuss the fragile global economic recovery.
It seems fitting that in this new, more austere world, gadgets such as comparatively low-cost tablet devices and smartphones and free social networking services have taken center stage, even if occasionally in a lavish way — PricewaterhouseCoopers held raffles for iPads for people who agreed to fill in a survey at Davos.
At the welcome reception ahead of the opening day of the economic forum, organizers replaced the shelves full of printed handouts of previous years with four tablet devices, in keeping with the theme of reducing waste.
Moreover, organizers urged attendees to download their mobile apps and follow the conference tweets while keeping track of developments through the week. Russia’s Medvedev, a prolific user of Twitter, has gone further and “crowd-sourced” questions by asking people to submit them via the Web.
Although it is hard to quantify the extent to which these technologies have infiltrated businesses, Apple has said four out of five Fortune 100 companies are piloting the iPad.
That’s a faster rate of adoption by businesses than the iPhone, first released in 2007. Apple sold close to 15 million iPads in 2010 and some analysts say it may double that in 2011.
General Electric has embraced tablets and smartphones from Apple and those running Google software. Replacing clunky and more expensive laptops with cheaper devices like the iPad not only pleases employees, but help firms slash costs.
“It is hard to put a number on it, but having home-grown this capability allows us to be iterative and rapid when it comes to experimentation,” said Linda Boff, global director of marketing communications at GE.
Social networking is also playing a big role in the business of doing business.
GE, which flirted with social networking before it was known as such back in 2003, is also using such networks to collaborate internally, while reaching out directly to customers over Twitter to resolve issues with its appliances products.
Until the 1990s, the main phone and computing device executives used were issued by the company and were a sign that one had arrived in the corporate world.
In the last decade, however, the design and utility of devices purchased at home have far outstripped the standard issue tools supported by companies.
What has helped Apple and Google devices spread across enterprise is the low cost of a new generation of devices compared to the company-issued laptop of a decade ago.
Staff can also purchase this equipment for themselves, saving decision makers from having to further rationalize costs.
Having employees pay for their own phones dramatically expands the number of mobile workers at very low costs.
“That’s the big shift,” said John Herrema, senior vice president of strategy at Good Technology. “Companies have the opportunity to increase their mobile (workforce) and productivity and reduce their spending at the same time.”
IT managers may be concerned about security and the flexibility to manage big fleets of devices, but that has not stopped major corporations from pushing ahead with finding a place for the iPad, and some 70 new tablet devices are expected to go on sale this year.
Just eight months since the iPad’s debut, few business meetings with technology company clients end before the client wonders if the service is available on the iPad, industry .
Well before the iPad hit U.S. store shelves last April, SAP, Europe’s largest software maker, began preparing applications for it for businesses as well as its own employees.
All this begs the question: Are PCs dead?
“No. You will always need a portable device with a keyboard,” George Colony, chief executive of tech research firm Forrester, explained over coffee at Davos.
“But it will be much less important.”
For full coverage, blogs and TV from Davos, go to: www.reuters.com/davos
Reporting by Kenneth Li