Editorial: the Killer Gadget? Convergence Is the Key

Five years ago analysts were predicting that cellphones and PDAs will eventually merge. Many laughed at these predictions (especially PalmOS users of that time) but today we know that the future of PDAs already lies with smartphones. “Convergence” seems to be the key element of all new cellphones, even the ones that are not in the “smartphone” category: they all playback mp3 for example. It’s obvious that convergence will move even further: music & video players and recorders will eventually give in much of their marketshare in favor of a one-device-does-it-all type of informational, entertainment & communication product. And Apple is definitely aware of this trend.Specifications

Let’s imagine how a powerful smartphone device would look like in 3 years time. Please note that some of today’s phones already have some of the following features, but they don’t have ALL of them.

* 624 Mhz to 1 GHz CPUs
Intel has already announced the new generation of XScale ARM that will reach 1 GHz soon.

* Bluetooth 2.0 Class 1
* Bluetooth Hands-Free Class 1 (included with device)
With a Class1 bluetooth device you can have access to devices or your music headphones or your included hands-free up to 330 yds (100 m).

* Basic speech recognition
Because the device would be in standby mode in a jacket pocket or bag most of the times, the included Bluetooth handsfree module should be able to support some speech recognition to voice dial or for music playback.

* WiFi and 3G/WCDMA/UMTS
The latest technologies in long range wireless and communication are standard. Hopefully, GPRS/EDGE will become cheaper too.

* SD or miniSD support

* FM radio
FM playback and recording is available.

A must have feature in the future. A lot of applications will depend on it.

* Integrated keyboard
This is a major feature that’s needed for such a device to succeed. Because such a device would be like a small handtop laptop in many cases, it must behave like one in terms of input. The device would be smaller than most PocketPC phones today, not like the one that was announced yesterday and apparently it’s even bigger than my current PDAs! If the screen swivels around the keyboard (so it’s not a sliding keyboard) and there’s not a lot of unused space around the screen, there is a good possibility that the overall device won’t be huge.

* 20 to 40 GB hard-disk/Flash
A true multimedia device needs a lot of storage space.

* VGA front camera
Used for 3G video calls. Present today on a few Nokia models only. Hopefully the new generation will use the h.264 codec for better quality and filesize and the multi-IM applications will be able to use the video camera for video chats. It would be so cool to be using your phone to video chat with your friend in the other side of the country sitting in front of his iChat/iSight on a Mac!

* TFT VGA touchscreen 4″
This would be a swivel screen, it would look like a PDA or a laptop depending on the orientation of the screen.

* 4 MP camera with flashlight (on the back)
* 128 MB RAM
* 3D sound and stereo speakers
* microphone, headphone-out

* 32 MB 3D chipset
ATi already has demoed this.

* Wireless USB and USB host
Connect your smartphone to any wireless USB device! For example, burn a CD, wirelessly!

* A/V TV in/out & recording
Like most of Archos video devices, they are able to record in full TV resolution from any A/V source. This should do too.

* Table stand
This plastic stand, part of the device, allows the user to stand the device in a comfortable way to watch video.

* Gaming/functionality buttons
The layout of the main buttons on the device (below the touchscreen) is such that allows gaming in a more natural way. For example, instead of a five-way touch-button that most PocketPCs come with today, a 5-way mini-joystick (like the ones on the Sony Ericsson phones) is used. Around the mini-joystick there are functionality buttons instead of application shortcut buttons. So, instead of having an “address book” button, you get a “close app” button, or a “Start menu” button. This allows you to use the user interface with a single hand. Next to the mini-joystick and its surrounded buttons, you get the 4 Gameboy-like buttons.

* on/off/hold button
This button allows to turn On/Off the device or “Hold” it while listening to music (which turns the LCD off to save battery).

* Enough battery
Maybe 1440 mAh would be needed to run all this for a while.

* Infrared will be absent, Bluetooth has already killed it.

Also, a lower-end device like the one I am describing above, with a 2.8″ QVGA screen and lower feature-set would also be a good option for those who don’t want to carry big gadgets with them.


There are five kinds of reactions to these predictions to which I will answer back:

1. “I want my cellphone to only be able to call and receive calls and nothing else.”
Answer: Well, that’s what the original cellphones did too, but the majority of the customers — and especially business users where “the information” is important for them — wanted more, more, more… And as younger people becoming teenagers and soon will attend college, they will want a piece of that mulitmedia action in one device too. Exactly the same way a 30-year old today wanted a Calculator and a Calendar in his cellphone in 1998. These new multi-purpose devices are meant for the next generation of customers.

2. “Too expensive!”
Answer: Yes and no. If a user had to buy a GPS receiver, a phone, a music player and a video player, he would need about $1200. The device I am describing would cost below $600 in 3 years from now.

3. “Such a device will never be as good mp3 or video device as a dedicated one could be.”
Answer: This is true. But they will be good enough to shake away as much as 70% of their current market share. This “good enough” factor is what pushes most products out to shelves. No, they are not mediocre products. But they are definitely ‘good enough’. Especially if you couple the device with a real OS (e.g. PalmOS, Linux or Windows) and the user has a lot of native applications to choose from, the idea can surely work.

4. “Such a device can not replace a laptop”.
Answer: No, but it can compliment it, and it can replace it occassionaly, when the user doesn’t feel like carrying 6lbs with him/her. My good online friend Ian used his Zaurus 5600 exclusively as his personal PC, for almost a year. For IM, notes and web, it worked wonders for him. Of course, the reason it succeeded for him was because of the integrated keyboard of Zaurus. An integrated keyboard that would be even more pleasurable/easy to use with in my proposed device above.

5. “These devices are huge”
The 4″ VGA device I described would be as big as a PDA today. The 2.8″ QVGA would be considerably smaller (and it would do less). But the point is, most young people take with them outdoors their mp3 player, their phone, their PDA, their laptop and sometimes their video player too. Such a convergenced device would take away a lot of that burden. I think most young people would welcome such a product.


But we aren’t yet there in terms of technology. Today, *we can* pack all this functionality in one device, but you end-up with one huge brick that would look hideous. In 2-3 years, it could be done in the same thickness as a Palm or an HP PDA today (or a Nokia or Linux smartphone for the smaller 2.8″ QVGA suggested device).

This direction is so clear in my mind, that it will be the natural way for Apple to move to. Companies like iRiver and Creative would probably license Windows Mobile or will sell these departments to others as they won’t be able to compete with devices that do “more” than their own multimedia-only devices, while Archos will have to stay ahead of curve at all times to guarantee further success. But Apple… Apple will have to follow the trends with a smartphone, sooner or later. The only question is: will they use FreeBSD as a base for their embedded OS, or Linux?


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