A Look into the Future of Traditional Handhelds

by Reads (15,626)

A few weeks ago, the first Ultra Mobile PCs (UMPC) were unveiled. The goal of this class of devices is to create pocket-sized, relatively inexpensive computers running a full version of Windows.

Whenever UMPCs are being discussed, someone always asks, “Why should I want one of these? I’ll just stick with my Pocket PC/Palm.”

My answer is, “You might not have much choice.”

End of the Desktop Paradigm

I got a brief glimpse of the next version of Windows Mobile, and I think it is going to be an excellent operating system… for smartphones.

I was told nothing has been set in stone, but it seems to me that Microsoft is giving up on something its mobile operating systems have had since the beginning: trying to look and act like the full version of Windows as much as possible.

Instead, I got the impression that the upcoming version of Windows Mobile is being designed to make the tasks most often performed on a smartphone easier to do.

While that’s all very well and good, what makes a good smartphone operating system doesn’t necessarily make a good handheld operating system. For example, good smartphone operating systems emphasize doing things one-handed via a D-pad, while ones designed for handhelds should emphasize stylus-based control.

And before you ask, Microsoft has made it clear that the days of there being two very different versions of Windows Mobile will be over with the next version. There will still be Touchscreen and non-touchscreen devices, but there will be one operating system for both.

Palm OS: Designed for Smartphones

The situation seems somewhat similar with Palm OS for Linux, the next version of this operating system.

A PalmSource representative said recently that the plan is to change the traditional look and feel of the Palm OS to make it better suited for smartphones.

There’s a vague mention of other types of mobile devices, but the writing is on the wall.

Not Just Operating Systems

Microsoft and PalmSource aren’t the only ones who are leaping on the smartphone bandwagon.

For example, an HP executive flat-out stated that his company is moving its focus to converged devices.

Dell hasn’t made such an explicit statement, but rumors indicate that it is going to start giving more of its attention to converged devices and phase out its line of traditional handhelds.

Every Palm OS licensee I can think of primarily focuses on smartphones already.

So What Now?

If both Windows Mobile and the Palm OS are moving to emphasize smartphones at the expense of traditional handhelds, what are people  who still want a traditional handheld to do?

I’d suggest you start fervently hoping that the next generation of UMPCs live up to the dream. These may be the only option.

Not a Big Shock

This move doesn’t really surprise me, especially in Microsoft’s case.

I believe that, from the very beginning, this company really wanted to put out hand-held devices that ran the full version of Windows. The problem was that it was impossible at the time.

But mobile technology has improved quite a bit in the last few years, and there are already several pocket-size devices running Windows XP on the market.

These cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $2,000, but Microsoft and Intel seem determined to bring down the prices.

If they can pull it off, Windows Mobile could become an operating system only for smartphones, while those wanting a traditional handheld will have to turn to UMPCs.

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