Wireless Telephones and Personal Assistants – What Does One Look For?

This is the first post in a series reviewing wireless devices in the emerging Personal Handheld Assistant space; the ultimate aim is to identify roles that Skype can play in this market of converged functionality devices. Links to other posts in this series are available at the end of this post.

Over the past couple of months I have received several wireless handheld phones/devices from Nokia (manufacturer of the last three cell phones I have owned), Research in Motion and SMC for evaluation. In addition I have been using a WiFi-enabled Dell Axim X50v as a PDA over the past two years and a Canon PowerShot A610 for photography; the Axim, of course, can run Skype Mobile, . Recently Sony announced its WiFi-enabled mylo; meanwhile last week saw the arrival of the Blackberry Pearl 8100.With such a variety of feature sets and user experiences, one needs to take a pause to review what is fundamentally important in a wireless handheld device to provide a basis for reviewing these devices, particularly in view of the convergence emerging in the various Nokia, Windows Mobile and (RIM) Blackberry devices.

This avalanche of handheld devices has made me ask the questions:

  • How much convergence of functionality do I want or need on a handheld device?
  • Where should Skype play a role in wireless-enabled handheld devices?
  • Can my previous three devices (phone, PDA, camera) be combined into one unit or do I continue to need three device holsters on my belt?

While some provide basic phone-like functionality, others have such a comprehensive feature set such that they need to be called Personal {provide an appropriate name} Assistants. For instance, I like to view the Nokia N70 as a Personal Connectivity Assistant and the Nokia N91 as a Personal Entertainment Assistant, based on the primary functionality one will derive from its use. But, given they all have a common phone functionality the basic features I seek out are:

  • How to access your contacts?: via a keypad, contact manager, IM client or a call log functionality
  • What Directory functionality exists? What is available to store and modify contacts?
  • Can the keypad accept and transmit DTMF tones to work with the interactive response systems common to many service operations (we all know this was an issue with early versions of Skype)
  • What are features that make using the phone simpler? for instance, on all Nokia phones pressing the left soft key and the “*” key results in locking the keypad to prevent accidental calling.
  • How good is the voice quality? How acceptable is the voice quality?
  • How flexibly does it handle the microphone/speaker configuration? Standard “Hold to the Ear”, Loudspeaker, Bluetooth access, speakerphone?

When it comes to wireless devices, additional questions arise such as:

  • How easily can one access the wireless network? Is there a facility to log onto WiFi networks that require a browser-based login process?
  • What wireless protocols does it handle? What frequency bands?
  • What is the role, if any, of a wireless service provider?
  • How readily does the device handle email functionality?
  • What features are available for downloading and synchronizing contacts from Outlook, Instant Messaging. or other contact management applications?
  • How long is the battery life?
  • What security is incorporated into the device and its transmissions?

And, given many of these devices are converged devices, one also needs to ask:

  • What additional communications features such as a web browser and FM radio are available?
  • What is available to handle “office” files: word processing, spreadsheets, Adobe files, etc.?
  • What photo features are available? camera, photo viewing
  • Can it handle GPS and navigation applications?
  • How readily can one acquire additional applications? How extensive is the development partner ecosystem?
  • How much memory can be incorporated into the device?
  • How stable is the underlying operating system? Does it freeze up and require frequent rebooting?

Summary Questions:

  • What situations is the device practical for?
  • Who is the target market?
  • Is there sufficient value-add to justify the pricing?

The above questions will provide a reference guideline as I review these various devices over the next few weeks. Not every device will have an answer to every question but at least it provides a general framework against which one can make appropriate evaluations..

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About Jim Courtney

Bringing over thirty years' experience in the sales, marketing and management of cutting edge technology businesses.

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