The smartphone is hot on the list of "convergence" products--combinations of gizmos squished into one productivity tool. Smartphones promise to not only be a cell phone but also a PDA, storing all contact and calendar info as well as accessing the Web and, often, short text messaging. The benefits: no fumbling with the PDA trying to look up a number while juggling to dial it into the phone. Instead, users can look up a number and dial just by touching the phone's screen.
Smartphones have had a slow start, floundering since Qualcomm first introduced the pdQ smartphone in 1998, which was simply too bulky and too expensive for most pockets and pocketbooks.
In 2000, Qualcomm sold its cell phone holdings to Kyocera, which is releasing a new smartphone that is slimmed down in both size and price. Several other manufacturers are getting into the smartphone game, including Samsung, Ericsson, Motorola, Nokia and Handspring.
Companies may not readily offer high-end smartphones as standard issue for mobile workers, but like PDAs they will likely creep through the back door of enterprises as workers realize how the gadgets can make their workday easier. Here's a rundown on some current (or soon-to-be-current) smartphones.
Kyocera QCP 6035
Kyocera is the first to admit that the pdQ phone it inherited from Qualcomm was a work in progress. But the company's new QCP 6035 Smartphone has shored up some of its predecessor's shortcomings.
First, the new phone has shed three ounces, weighing in at just over 7 ounces. While it's still bulkier than many phones, it's still easier to carry than both a phone and a PDA. And it's sized to be truly transportable.
The price has also slimmed down, from around $800 to what will most likely be less than $500, so users can justify the cost as approximately equal to buying a PDA and phone separately.
The QCP 6035 is a tri-mode phone (CDMA digital PCS, CDMA
digital cellular and analog). It offers Web access in three varieties: full HTML browsing, WAP browsing (for sites specifically constructed for WAP use) and Palm Web Clipping (which converts select sites for easier viewing on small screens). It also supports short text messaging.
Because the phone runs Palm OS 3.5 with 8 MB of memory, any application for Palm handhelds can be run on the phone. Users can synchronize their information with their desktop or laptop computer.
Rick Getter, senior manager for global public relations at Kyocera, explains that a partners program is helping software providers optimize existing software for the phone in enterprise situations, as well as working with specialized enterprise applications.
Also, the QCP 6035 is notable because it supports browsers with Secure Socket Layer (SSL) encryption. This provides for safe m-commerce in the consumer realm and makes the phone an attractive enterprise candidate for accessing secure data.
Getter believes that Kyocera has the edge on the competition. The Kyocera phone is expected to hit the market before many competing products, and since the QCP 6035 is a 2G product, there's been time to work out the bugs, he says.
Looking forward, Getter believes that 3G technologies will push the data speeds of smartphones, as well as opening up possibilities for additional capabilities like MP3, streaming video, position location, enhanced memory and color screens. But it'll probably be 18 months to two years for these goodies to debut.
Handspring has gotten into the smartphone game through the introduction last September of the Visorphone, a Springboard expansion module. The module snaps onto the top of the PDA, giving the user a PDA/phone combo.
The module costs $299 with a one-year service plan, while the Visor itself can be purchased for as low as $149. Handspring is now selling service plans from Cingular Wireless, Powertel and Voicestream Wireless.
The Visorphone goes a long way in integrating the PDA with the phone; it can instantly access and dial numbers from the Visor's address book. Incoming calls can be checked against the address book for caller ID, and short messaging is as easy as jotting a note on the screen.
The Visorphone is not as slim as your average cell phone and may be awkward to talk into, but by using a headset you can access the PDA functions while on the phone.
Unfortunately, Visorphone operates on the GSM standard, which is less established in the United states than CDMA, so coverage might not exist in smaller towns. Handspring justifies the GSM choice, saying it is the most popular network in the world, but the company is also working on a CDMA- compatible version.
Nokia 7100 and 9210
Nokia currently offers its 7100 series of smartphones in the United states. They feature Internet access via WAP, as well as PDA features similar to a Palm so users can store contact info and sync it with their PC. Its screen is larger than Nokia's standard phone screen to make it more like a PDA.
Nokia's smartest phone will be available in Europe in the first half of 2001, but currently there are no plans to bring it to the United states. Called the 9210 Communicator, it uses Symbian's EPOC operating system and is being positioned as an office on the go. It's a big phone, but it has more capabilities, too.
The 9210's clamshell design incorporates a color screen and allows users to work with Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents. It supports Java, incorporates Sync ML and can browse in HTML or WAP formats. In Europe, the 9210 will support data speeds up to 43.2 Kbps.
The pumped up speed that the United states is unable to support is preventing the 9210's release in this country. But Nokia announced it will be working with Palm to incorporate the Palm OS into future U.S. smartphones in conjunction with the EPOC OS.
"Palm is a great OS, but the EPOC OS is designed for mobile wireless devices," explains Keith Nowak, media relations manager for Nokia.
In addition to the models detailed here, Ericsson recently unveiled the R380, which is a dual-band (GSM 900/1800) smartphone incorporating WAP, SMS and e-mail functionality. It features PDA-like tools, supports synchronization with a PC and runs on the EPOC OS.
Samsung will soon release a CDMA smartphone featuring a color screen and running the Palm OS. It will allow Web browsing through Palm's Web Clipping or the built-in WAP browser. Also, Palm and Motorola are working on a phone/PDA combo that will debut in 2002.