Most people don’t understand how poorly SDIO is currently implemented in the Pocket PC world. In fact, it’s so misunderstood that I almost named this article “The Most Important Thing About Pocket PC That You’ve Never Heard Of.” But maybe this editorial will bring the issue to more people’s attention, so eventually it can be fixed, at least before it becomes a serious problem.
First off, let’s be sure we’re all on the same page. I’m sure everyone knows that all Secure Digital (SD) slots can handle standard memory cards. In addition, some manufacturers add support for Input/Output, or SDIO, cards to their slots. With SDIO, all forms of peripherals, from digital cameras to the soon-to-be-released Wi-Fi cards, can be used.
However, these cards are by no means “plug-and-play.” They require software, called drivers, to make them work. Unfortunately, software drivers aren’t always portable between devices, and certainly not between platforms, and therein lies the problem.
To truly understand the implications of this, take the example of the ViewSonic V35. The V35 is an excellent little handheld that offers SDIO support. But how many SDIO peripherals are available for the V35? None. Zip, zilch, nada. While there are several SDIO peripherals for Pocket PCs currently available, none have drivers for the V35.
I’ll even go out on a limb to make this prediction: Many current Pocket PCs won’t be able to use the upcoming Wi-Fi SD cards I mentioned…ever. The reason? No drivers.
The Possible Solutions
Now that we recognize the problem, let’s look at some possible solutions.
BSQUARE’s SDIO Now! program was created by BSQUARE to deal with just this situation. Handheld and peripheral makers that join SDIO Now! can ensure that their products are interoperable. For example, a Wi-Fi card maker can develop the hardware and a single driver and expect that it will work with every handheld that is part of the SDIO Now! program.
Of course this only works if lots of companies, especially the Pocket PC manufacturers, join the program. At this point, it looks like it’s gaining some momentum. Toshiba recently joined, and its new smaller Bluetooth SD card is part of the program. Samsung’s i700 and HP’s iPAQ 3900 series both support SDIO Now! In addition, the Wi-Fi SD cards coming soon from Socket Communications are part of the program, as are products from Veo and MARGI.
Another option is for Microsoft to add something similar to SDIO Now! to the Pocket PC platform. This would be an ideal solution because it would clear up a lot of the confusion among users, as well as make life simpler for peripheral makers. If all Pocket PC models handled SDIO the same way, a single driver could be used with any of them.
But if Microsoft is planning something like this, we haven’t heard anything about it. In fact, there are signs that Microsoft has thrown its weight behind BSQUARE’s solution.
“BSQUARE’s SDIO Now! program has quickened the pace of adoption of Secure Digital technology because it helps ensure interoperability across various products from different vendors,” said Howard Gefen, director for Microsoft’s Mobile Devices Division, recently. If Microsoft is going this route, it needs to strongly encourage its Pocket PC licensees to join the program.
Handheld consumers have a role to play by voting with their dollars. So if SDIO peripherals are important to you, make sure that the next handheld you buy is part of the SDIO Now! program. When companies realize that having their handhelds in the program gives them a competitive advantage, more of them will join and the program will get the wide reach it needs to be successful.
Right now, CompactFlash (CF) slots are doing a good job of handling non-memory peripherals. But as handhelds shrink, CF will continue to be squeezed out, and SD slots will need to take up the slack. But for this to happen, there needs to be a fix for the SDIO problem.