Sunday, May 07, 2006

Tech: PDAs - One device to bind them all

A news report that IDC says the sale of PDAs is plummeting. Another report states WiFi convergence has been quite lacklustre.

Personally, I think that’s a shame. I’ve had a pocket computer for a couple of years now, and I find it indispensible– yet I still don’t feel I’ve exploited it sufficiently.

Of course, the market has been ripped asunder by competition from two other consumer devices: the mobile phone and the MP3 player. It will only come back together again when convergent devices are the norm.

The fact is, it’s a pain carting around several devices; there’s always been debate about this amongst PDA enthusists. Typically, a PDA is bulkier than a phone, doesn’t have phone capabilities, and doesn’t have a lot of memory – less than 100M standard, in most cases. However, the memory can be beefed up pretty easily (typically via an SD card – I use a 1G one, the sweet spot at the moment), and there are actually convergent devices on the market. The O2 is a good example of a feature-packed PDA: it has mobile phone, wireless and camera; HP is doing it too.

The solution isn’t ideal. PDAs with phone capability are bigger than most and expensive, and for what it’s worth, it doesn’t look that cool holding a PDA to your ear.

Convergence is happening. But so far, the marketplace test is the decider, and where the bulk of consumers go, so go economies of scale, and so goes product development. Mobile phones are entrenched in the market. MP3 players have achieved that critical mass consumer acceptance too. PDAs have gone a certain distance, but they haven’t fully broken out of the tech geek enclave.

Why would someone bother? Well, why not? Who wouldn’t want a mobile computer they don’t have to lug about? One place for documents, data exchange, contacts, appointment reminders, music, family photos and videos, maps, games for the kids, even TV/DVD remote control.

Limitations: small screen, and the need to use a foldup keyboard for serious data entry. Challenges for the future.

I don’t have GPS, phone or camera on my PDA. I would like a fully convergent device. But at the rate we’re going, the market dictates development remains focused on phones. It will come all the same: a GPS, net-linked computer, camera and video phone all in one. I’ll be waiting.

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