Let's all move to Japan

November 08, 2002

I've deciced to discuss some of the wrongs with the PDA+phone market, particularly in the US. What triggered this little rant is that it was recently pointed out to me that I've had my current phone for > 5 months (I haven't done that since 11 phones ago, literally). After thinking about that for a while, it was easy for me to see why that is the case.

The main reason is, quite simply, that there is NOTHING else out there. I currently have a Sony Ericsson T68i. This phone has everything: one of the first phones with a color screen, first phone ever with MMS capability, a decent PIM, SMS, GPRS, IR, bluetooth, and it's fully syncable with Outlook and other PIMs (granted, Linux syncability is lacking, but that is something I've come to live with over the years). The fact is, I will never buy another phone again until it has all of these features + more. This hasn't always been the case; I used to 'swap' features for other features,but I've settled comfortably into the current feature set and will require it on future phones. That said, there is simply nothing else out there right now that can give me all of that. The main thing that manufacturers keep leaving out is a simple way for you to sync your contacts with your phone (and in the case of the T68i, your schedule as well). This capability has been around for a long time, but it is still treated as if it is a perk — this should be a requirement. It should be able to sync out of the box without requiring a separate data cable. This should have become a nonissue years ago, but as it stands, it is still something not usually seen on mobile phones. Fortunately, Bluetooth is becoming increasingly cheaper and will hopefully be ubiquitous in the future (if not Bluetooth, then perhaps 802.xx will pick up the PAN market). I watch this industry like a hawk and have yet to see a perfect device (read: one limited only by current technology). They just can't seem to get it right: they give you a color screen, but only 8-bit color depth; they give you 16-bit color, but a 102x111 pixel screen; they give you an SD slot but no bluetooth. It just doesn't work.

As I've said for years, this 'perfect device' will eventually come down to a GOOD PDA+phone. Unfortunately, these are few and far between and the ones that are available are either too heavy, too power-hungry, or lacking key features. I owned the Samsung SPH-i300 when it first came out. This was the first Palm phone (first one available for Sprint I should say. Qualcomm made a BRICK-like device for Verizon prior to the SPH-i300). I was quite impressed, but it certainly failed in a few key areas, not the least of which was its horrible form-factor. It all boils down to a tradeoff between needs and wants, but the fact is, these differ for everyone. Given this, I do understand the restrictions placed on companies having to decide between what might give them the initial "ooh-ahh" factor and what *will* sell, but damn, there should be at least ONE great device out there. I'd like to say that the current US market is inundated with GOOD PDA+phone combos, but it ISN'T. Not even close. There are a few decent devices, but nothing spectactular. While I'm on the subject of current devices, I'd like to tell Palm that I'm quite disappointed with their brand-new line of PDAs (and I'm sure they're reading this *pfft*). I'm speaking of the Tungsten line. Palm finally realized that people want a resolution better than the 160x160 crap they've been pushing on us for the last eight years and came through with a brilliant 320x320, 16-bit screen (something Sony has been doing for years I might add). I honestly think that if Sony hadn't been pushing the envelope with their Clie series the past few years Palm would have died out a while ago. Though Palm was coming out with new PDAs every couple of months, the reality is they offered no substantial new features. In fact, for the most part, they just kept taking features away and making the devices cheaper. Anyways, back to my beef with their current offerings. The main problem I have with their Tungsten line is the Tungsten|w. Palm dropped the ball big time with this one. This device claims to be some kind of wireless wonder BUT to use the built-in phone capability one must use a hands-free headset. That's right, they built all this great wireless crap into the PDA, but then require a separate piece of equipment to use it for voice communication. Absurd. One is quickly reminded of Motorola's failed Accompli 009. Palm likes to say that this isn't a big deal, that this is "designed for the mobile professional more reliant on e-mail than voice communication," but the fact is, they missed a HUGE opportunity here. There are a lot of people out there (myself obviously included) waiting on the perfect PDA+phone device. Palm could have come pretty damn close with this one. I'm still on the fence regarding my preference for mobile OS's (Palm, Pocket PC, Symbian — I've had a lot of experience with all of them), but was quite ready to give Palm another shot, especially since Palm OS 5 fixes a lot of the problems I've come across with earlier versions. Perhaps the best thing about OS 5 is its support for ARM processors (read: Palm finally realized that the 33MHz Motorola DragonBall isn't going to cut it forever, especially with the Intel 400MHz XScale line now available). Given Palm's lackadaisical approach to new devices/features, we probably won't see this situation rectified for at least a year, which gives Symbian, Smartphone 2002 (MS's phone OS), and Pocket PC ample time to further eat away at this growing market.

Speaking of Smartphone 2002, Sendo just announced that they were discontinuing all development on their z100 smartphone-enabled mobile phone. This is a big blow to MS as this was to be the first US device to use Smartphone 2002. Sendo's reason for letting go of Smartphone 2002 was cited as being MS's closed-source policy, something that is starting to affect MS more and more. The best part about this story is that Sendo has since licensed Symbian for use on their PDA/phone. My guess is that this didn't go over too well with MS. :)

I realize I've been all over the place with this little rant here — I tend to get both excited and frustrated when talking about this topic. Let me end this with a list of my REQUIRED features for the 'perfect device' (this is well within what is currently possible):

General
400MHz Intel XScale processor
128MB RAM
48MB ROM
stereo sound
Screen
no smaller than the latest iPAQs (3800/3900 line)
320x320 resolution
16-bit color
screen must be transreflective
Connectivity
802.xx
bluetooth
IR
GPRS
GSM 900/1800/1900
Expansion
built-in CF slot (I and II)
SD slot
Form-factor
must weigh less than 5 oz.
5x3x.5"
flat (ie, no clam-shell design)
internal antennas
OS

Again, the jury is out on this one. It isn't like we have too many options here, but it's going to be a while before someone really rises above the crowd (perhaps embedded linux will end up beating them all!).

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