Does the Cost of Mobility Add Up?

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I can officially say that long use of converged devices has made me a bit of a mobile advocate. I see the benefit of having everything that you need literally at your fingertips. This is not a bad thing for most people that I come in contact with, either. Many people like that they can do a quick Google search for a local restaurant on their mobile phone, or that they can pull up a map of someplace they are going while already on the way.

On the other hand, I have talked to other people about purchasing converged devices and have heard a completely different side of the story. They like devices like Treos and Blackberries, but cannot see paying an additional monthly fee (that is two-thirds of what they pay for broadband at home), cannot deal with the smaller screen size (compared to a notebook) or larger phone size (gotta love that RAZR in comparison to the Treo), or just see a converged device as putting too many eggs into one basket. All of these are valid points.

However, all of them (both positive and negative) speak to the same bottom line in our wallets: do the positive costs of being mobile outweigh the negative ones? In this editorial, I will take an in-depth look at some of the not so positive aspects of converged mobiles and then ask if they are heavier that the positives.

Negative 1: Having a converged PDA  or smartphone means that your monthly phone bill will be higher.

In some respects this is true. If you never used the mobile Internet before getting a smartphone, and then use it a lot after getting it, you will have to shell out additional funds.

However, this is not totally a true statement (contrary to what some carriers would have you purchase). In many cases, a smartphone is more than usable without going online one bit. This is because the PDA aspects of the phone can be very useful. Instead of buying a phone to make calls and a PDA to keep track of your schedule, a smartphone can do both for less money.

And depending on what your job is, paying a larger phone bill can be worth it. In some situations, getting that email now, rather than later, can mean a ton of money.

Therefore, we can say that the positives of usability can outweigh the negatives of a large bill. And that a large bill can be avoided by not using the Internet on a smartphone at all, thereby further making a positive of financial value a real positive.

Negative 2: Smartphones are much larger than normal phones.

Unfortunately, or fortunately, the Motorola RAZR really did hit the sweet spot for a ton of people who wanted a nice looking phone that was very easy to tote around. Unfortunately, because of the complexity of smartphones, and the amount of things that they can do, their designs are usually larger than less capable models (but are getting smaller, see the HTC StrTrk model). Also, because smartphones do more, they tend to come with larger batteries to give them nearly comparative life to a “dumb” phone.

In this case we have to admit that, until the hardware and battery technology improve, the size of smartphones (on a general scale) is a knock against them, and therefore a counted negative.

Now, if you are keeping track that is one positive for smartphones (cost, value) and one negative for them (design, size). On to our last point, and probably the most important to the most people…

Negative 3: Smartphones are too complex. They require complex button presses, stylus use, or holding one’s hands in awkward positions in order to actually do the smart tasks.

While this is one area that is very subjective, because many purchases are made by word of mouth, this is actually an argument that holds a lot of weight to many people. Phones such as BlackBerries and Treos have been popular because they not only do the job easily, but also are designed to do the job (email, text messaging, telephony) well enough for most users.

But looking across the span of smartphones, there is not yet one form factor that really has made everyone drop everything to get one (though the Treo/BlackBerry design is really close).

Not to mention the software side of things. Some manufacturers have gone the way of making the user interface on phones look as close as possible to one on a PC, while others use various forms of input, styled menus, or complex file structures that make it very hard just to exit a screen, let alone save a contact.

And while many may say that you can transfer music, files, or other data to and from a smartphone phone, many times the software integration between the phone functions and the PDA functions on a device can also be cumbersome (or just there without much documentation).

While phones are more personal, and therefore the designs speak towards that; in the realm of smartphones, the abilities of the phones actually speaks towards fewer styles that would be off the wall (so to speak), and more towards a few common themes (slate without keyboard, slate with keyboard, slide-down keyboard, and slide-out side keyboard).

This item is very hard to just say that it is totally a negative or totally a positive for smartphones. There are just too many sizes of hands, and personal workflows out there to say that a one-size-fits-all methodology is going to work. And so for this one I will have to say that design is so subjective that this is a tied item.

Conclusion

And so what does this mean about whether the costs of smartphones are worth it or not? Really, it is worth it if you do your homework and really make a specific goal of making it work. They do work, though sometimes it does mean a bit more money out of your pocket, or a compromise here or there.

But, if to you the compromises in device size and battery life outweigh the fact that you can be connected anywhere and anytime, then you can say that the cost is too high and that manufacturers need to do better in that respect.

What is true for all who use a mobile device for any amount of time is that it will change the way that you look at computing. And just maybe make you a better investor in mobile technology in the long run.

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