Recently, a Shoreline Weekly Mobile Outlook reader called to talk about handheld devices and the increasing use of smartphone systems outside the U.S., especially in Europe, Asia and China. He maintained that smartphones will steadily chip away at the installed base of PDAs that are equipped with various types of local and wide area wireless communications technologies, to eventually become the de facto standard in the enterprise.
While we think there is a long road ahead in this journey -- especially in the U.S. where reliable and widely available high-speed wireless infrastructures are still a dream -- we also think that this intrepid reader is on to something. Just take a look at the new Palm Treo 600, as well as the variety of smartphone devices available outside the U.S., and you will get some indication of the potential for these converged devices. Heck, we may even be able to wear European-cut suits again if we can limit our device baggage to just a single system!
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During a recent trip to London, we were impressed with the amount of everyday text messaging going on as people made their way through the city's confusing transit network -- or zapped quick messages to friends and associates as they trotted down the street or sat in a nearby pub. At the Mobile Commerce World conference that took place last month, scores of vendors demonstrated wireless applications that were tailor-made for converged wireless devices, and revealed plans for new solutions that incorporated text and multimedia messaging. These were not wireless digital snapshooting, which is now heavily promoted here in the U.S., but real-world applications.
All of this activity got us to thinking just how next generation wireless applications, which are designed for converged devices and smartphones, might impact the design of these systems over time. We have always said the design of traditional PDAs will eventually give way to a multitude of systems whose form fits their intended function. One good example of this right now is the Nokia 3300 Music Phone, which combines an MP3/ACC player with an FM stereo receiver and full function cell phone. The neatest thing about the system is its design, which is horizontal and features a keyboard that brackets the small full-color screen. In fact, it mimics the design of the Nokia N-Gage mobile game deck, which is expected to be the hot item this Christmas. (The Nokia 3300 phone is now available from AT&T Wireless for less than $50 with a wireless service plan).
Those of you who think that Nokia is just interested in the consumer side of the business (which is responsible for a big chunk of its revenue right now), might be surprised to discover that the company has just restructured its venture organization to focus more on enterprise opportunities. The new division, which was looking for a new head as of this writing, will concentrate on funding and developing secure wireless solutions for businesses.
So, what are some of the design changes and technology improvements we see coming down the wireless pike in terms of smartphones and converged system devices?
This is more of a fact than a prediction, but as of Nov. 24 users in the U.S., due to a government mandate, will be able to keep their current or future mobile number even if they change service providers. Local number portability (LNP) is expected to have a measurable impact on wireless carriers, since many customers are reluctant to switch to a new provider lest they lose their current number -- an inconvenience for consumers, but a big deal for business users. In fact, at least one study predicted that customer 'churn' over the next 12 months could result in some $3 billion in lost revenue as users swap their current plans for less expensive deals.
The increased development of the location-aware capabilities that are inherent to every wireless phone, to the point where applications are developed that closely tie into location-based technology. Just recently, for example, Xora, Inc. announced that its TimeTrack GPS location technology will be incorporated into the Nextel service to allow mobile workers to use their phones to record and capture project details in the field and facilitate dispatching and routing applications. The software can also be used to trigger reports and activity logs from workers in the field, which helps in managing these mobile mavens.
More emphasis on so-called 'over-the-air updating' of mobile phones and converged devices, not only to improve services and tweak the operating environment but to add essential business applications and refresh data. This means instant and effortless synchronization of the millions of wireless devices in the hands of mobile workers. Motorola, Inc. is a big fan of the concept, and recently licensed an over-the-air technology offered by Bitfone to help repair software glitches in its devices. The Open Mobile Alliance standards group has also formed an OTA committee to work on specifications and rules that can eventually be adopted by wireless carriers worldwide.
In terms of the design of these systems, we will again point to the Danger, Inc. HipTop (although, we know, you are probably weary of use talking about it), the Treo 600, and the emerging Nokia devices. We would have included Kyocera in this group, since it was working on a device called the 'Kurv' phone, which kind of looks like a cell phone boomerang given its curved shape and colorful exterior. The neatest feature of this proposed device is a 'smart skin' technology developed by Wildseed, Ltd. that fits over the phone's exterior and interacts with the installed software to alter the interface and applications. What this means is that if you are a field force worker you could slip on a skin that is pre-programmed for healthcare clients and the installed applications will automatically change to fit the mod, so to speak.
Rumor mill: Is Motorola catching a whole new wave?
We usually do not engage in rumors and hearsay here at the Monday Morning Briefing offices ... oh heck, who are we kidding. Sure we do! The latest involves Motorola, Inc. and the rumor now circulating in the industry that it is looking to acquire a major player in the ultra wideband (UWB) communications market. UWB, of those of you in the dark, is a short-range (10 meters or less) transmission technology that features relies on an extremely large bandwidth to support all types of multimedia devices, such as cable/satellite set top boxes, DVD players, digital cameras and recorders, PCs and such. It outperforms other short- and long-range wireless technologies. (Bluetooth, 802.11, etc., in terms of its multimedia support capabilities, and is considered to be the at-home network infrastructure of the future).
Motorola is reportedly looking to get a piece of this action, which makes sense since it is already heavily vested in other types of home networking and wireless appliances. We won't tell you which company is now in Motorola's acquisitions sites, but your guess is as good a anyone else's, since the field is relatively un-crowded at this point.
Interesting side dish: Is that an exploding battery in your pocket?
We actually picked up this little tidbit as we were cruising the international newswires late one night: A supermarket employee in the Netherlands reportedly burned his legs recently when a Nokia handheld device exploded in his pants pocket. This incident was preceded by another exploding phone incident that occurred in August, which involved another Nokia phone that apparently blew up in the user's hands. Nokia is reportedly investigating both incidents, although we hear the problem may be the use of non-approved and ultra-powerful batteries, which a lot of users purchase from the local electronics store or the Internet to replace their standard batteries. The results may be an overload and unexpected explosion.
Obviously, this is a serious situation (despite all that snickering about exploding pants from our readers in the back). We actually experienced our own exploding battery situation several months ago, involving an Electro Fuel (now ElectroVaya) 16-hour battery pack that was plugged into our notebook PC during a long cross-country flight. The battery pack started to swell and heat up, prompting us to tuck it away into our briefcase and pray that it did not go boom in mid air -- which would have been a little embarrassing, if not illegal, in this age of Homeland Security and such. Once we landed, we had to scout around for a way to properly dispose of the battery pack, which now resembled a microwave popcorn bag. All in all, very scary.
Tim Scannell is the president and chief analyst with Shoreline Research, a Quincy, Mass.-based consulting company specializing in mobile and wireless technology and initiatives. Shoreline works with end users, looking to implement mobile solutions, and vendors, developing new products and seeking business and customer opportunities. The company also specializes in training and strategic planning projects. For more information on Shoreline Research and the company's strategic services please go to http://www.shorelineresearch.com.