I always thought that someday I would need to consult a shrink about a
real split personality issue. On one hand I am a die-hard technology fan.
On the other, I have acute gadget apathy. Any day I get to write a new
program is a holiday to me. When I pay my bills or buy my socks online, I
feel free and empowered. And I get all my news from the Web.
Yet with all these pro-technology traits, I can't figure out why I have
no interest in high-tech gadgets. No cell phones, PDAs, MP3 players, or
laptops. When my 11-year old VCR broke a few months ago, I didn't run out
to buy a DVD player. I just bought another VCR for $50. Of course I bought
it the high-tech way, online.
But a couple of weeks ago Rich Tehrani, our Publisher, showed me his
PocketPC and you know what? I actually felt drawn to it. Just a
little, but enough for Rich to be surprised at my reaction to this gadget.
PocketPC is Microsoft's next leap
in the portable PC devices. The impetus for having a handheld PC should be
obvious. For most of us who use a PC at work and at home, an ideal PDA
would have an exact interface as our PCs. Be it Apple, Windows, or Linux,
the PDA display should look and feel like the desktop and have the ability
to achieve painless interface to the files stored on the desktop and the
rest of the network, locally or remotely. iPAQ isn't perfect but it has
come closer to this wish than any other device I have seen.
iPAQ is a Compaq product but PocketPC is also manufactured by other
companies such as HP and Casio.
The model that Rich showed me had 32 MB of RAM and a 206 MHz Intel
StrongARM processor. It also came with an expansion pack armed with more
battery power and a cool wireless PC card modem with a tiny antenna. Rich's
iPAQ also sported a wide array of software running on top of Windows
PowerPC. The whole thing looked like a Windows desktop, albeit missing the
mouse and keyboard.
Now before you dismiss me and call me a sell-out to Microsoft, let me
add that there are a number of initiatives (including one on iPAQ), which
have ported a Linux desktop onto the PocketPC and other similar devices.
That is music to my ears. Finally we may actually be able to carry our PCs
in our pockets no matter what the OS.
After firing up the iPAQ and playing around with some of the
applications, two features really caught my eye:
- The ability to play real-time music and movies. With the 14.4 Kbps
connection the streaming quality wasn't exactly great, but whatever
amount made it through was pretty crisp and clear.
- The ability to use Citrix to login to the corporate LAN. This is an
incarnation of the thin client but in this case the client is not only
thin but also agile.
It was immediately obvious to me that this is perhaps the platform that
would finally marry Internet telephony with wireless telephony. Sure you
can still have your voice service with your cell phone but can you browse
the Net and check your e-mail and edit a Word file at the same time? Okay,
but what about WAP?
WAP is simply no match to what a PocketPC can offer. TMCnet.com is a
WAP capable site, but I would much prefer browsing our site on a normal
browser than a WAP one. Not to mention that after setting up our site on
WAP I wouldn't wish it on other developers. And what about PDAs such as Palm
or Handspring? While these devices
are widely used, there is no question that their interfaces differ widely
from a normal desktop. Try browsing to a site that doesn't have Web
Clipping using your Palm.
Still, many companies have sought to combine the functionality of Palm
with the cell phone. The trouble with the existing cell phone/PDA hybrids
is that they mainly started out as cell phones and then they tried to
patch on some PDA functionality. Several wireless companies tried this
approach of marrying cell phones will Palm, but as most of us have
observed people aren't quite sold on the idea. So is it possible that with
PocketPC the tables could be turned? Can we start out with the relatively
solid PDA and then we add Internet telephony on top? With the Internet
connection already there, it can feasibly be leveraged to transmit voice
as well as any other type of traffic that IP can handle today. As of yet
there are still several issues that need to be addressed.
Looking at the Microsoft camp and the .Net
initiative, it is still unclear how Internet telephony will be worked in.
Even trying to get some data on Speech.Net resulted in scant amount of
information on Microsoft's Web site. The other issue is the low bandwidth
afforded by wireless. A whopping 14.4 Kbps is certainly not enough to
achieve an acceptable Internet telephony connection while engaged in other
activities such as browsing.
Moreover wireless service is spotty around the country and its quality
is still questionable. Wireless vendors such as Sprint
PCS claim that the public's appetite for wireless is still ravenous
even in the face of the recent economic downturn. Given this fact and the
belief that technology only gets better with the passage of time, I am
confident that the era of the high-bandwidth and more reliable wireless
Internet is not too far away. There is also the Bluetooth
technology that could someday connect us to various networks (airport,
hotel, etc.) at high speed allowing us to use those networks as conduits
to the Internet.
That leaves us with one last hurdle -- the PocketPC device itself. As
much as I liked this device, there are still several issues that need to
be worked out before it can truly achieve mainstream:
- Price -- With the price of a loaded model approaching $1,500 and the
wireless service at around $60 per month, PocketPC is an expensive
toy. It has to become cheaper before it can be popular.
- Battery life -- This is one issue road warriors always lament. Just
like laptops, Pocket PC doesn't exactly have a long battery life.
After waiting for years for a more durable battery technology, I am
not all that optimistic about the prospects. But I haven't lost all
- Ease of use and management -- I saw Rich struggling multiple times
with the interface as he was disconnected from the provider. Of
course, given the bad habit we have developed over the years with
Windows, he restarted the system several times.
PocketPC is still a young technology but I see a bright future for this
device. Mobile Internet telephony would be just one of the many
applications that it will be able to offer in the future. Not to mention
saving me a trip to the shrink's office because I have finally found a
gadget I could possibly like. Do you have a PocketPC or are you pondering
its influence on our lives? Drop me a line and let me know.
Robert Vahid Hashemian provides us with a healthy dose of reality
each month in his Reality Check column. Robert currently holds the
position of director for TMCnet.com -- your online resource for CTI,
Internet telephony, and call center solutions. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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