Devil's Advocate: Technology drag

Or: Why can't I still get a simple phone-PDA combination?
Written by Martin Brampton, Contributor

Or: Why can't I still get a simple phone-PDA combination?

Martin Brampton has written in the past about his personal technology problems. So why has nothing improved? Why is technology moving so slowly these days? Although there are constant product announcements, I seem to be waiting forever to be offered a PDA that really meets my needs. Will the market deliver something soon I wonder? It is now some years since I advocated the convergence of the mobile phone and the PDA. It seems an obvious marriage. After all, when you are out and about the most useful aspect of a name and address list is the phone numbers. And messages have to come and go without the need to find a wired connection, so email or SMS depend on the phone but are better handled in the PDA. My old Nokia Communicator confirmed for me the convenience of phone and PDA integration, although its PC connectivity options were rather limited. Its size came to look rather absurd, and when the screen started playing up I had to think about a replacement. As soon as I had purchased something else, naturally the screen returned to functioning perfectly. Now, despite its brick-like proportions, my son is using it, making it unlikely that I will see it again. The replacement has been disappointing, despite the huge amount of research I put into product selection. I had to make the choice about 18 months ago, and gave up on full integration at the time, choosing instead an Ericsson T28 World phone that was supposedly compatible with the Ericsson MC218 version of the Psion 5. The phone works fine as a mobile phone but I have rather given up on the MC218, which mostly gathers dust these days. It fell foul of a problem that is common with manufacturers who are not fully part of the IT business. For most people, synchronisation with a range of PC software is an essential requirement for a PDA. Apart from the need to use both kinds of device, the PC provides the vital backup for the PDA's somewhat fragile ability to retain data. Sadly, companies that are not in the mainstream of IT seem not to understand that digital devices need to be supported through the constant changes in software. New versions of Windows will appear whether we like it or not but we expect things like printers to keep up with the changes. Those manufacturers that are closely tied to IT achieve this but problems have arisen, for example, with photocopier makers who have dabbled in turning their machines into computer printers. So Ericsson let me down by failing to support Windows 2000, hardly an outrageous requirement for a device purchased late in 2001. Nothing on its website had given me a clue that this would be a problem, so my carefully designed PDA and phone solution has never performed as I hoped. Ericsson has been totally deaf to my grumbles. Maybe the fact that I have survived without an effective PDA proves that such things are not absolutely vital, even in this technological age. But I keep hankering after a better solution. New products appear regularly but so far the smart phones seem to fail to quite offer the functionality I would like. The pure PDAs fail to appeal because they lack the phone capability. Those that attempt mobile phone abilities still seem horribly clunky, requiring the user to carry round a bunch of bits that have to be carefully arranged before use. A further difficulty is my demand for a keyboard that enables at least cramped 10 finger typing. Innovations like cloth keyboards or laser-projected keyboards always seem to be just around the corner. Infra-red connectivity doesn't seem to catch on for desktop PCs, making synchronisation more difficult. Widely adopted calendaring standards still seem a long way off. It looks as if I shall have to continue scanning the product announcements for a bit longer before all this innovation actually yields the device that will really meet my needs. But I will be cautious about the vendor I select. ** Martin Brampton is a director and founder of Black Sheep Research (www.black-sheep-research.co.uk ), an independent consultancy providing research, writing and speaking services on a wide range of business and technology subjects. Martin was previously a director at Bloor Research, and has worked with IT as a user and analyst for over 20 years. He can be contacted at silicon@black-sheep-research.co.uk. For past Devil's Advocate columns see the links below, or type 'Devil' into our search engine.
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