I wish I had a dollar for every article I’ve read lately on how Handhelds Are Doomed because they are going to be replaced by smartphones. Saying that makes no sense to me, because, at its root, a smart phone is a handheld.
I think people are confused because we’ve taken a device, added a new feature, and given it a totally different name.
A smartphone is really just a PDA with a mobile phone built into it. A Treo 600 is just as much a handheld computer as a Toshiba e405 is, but you can also make phone calls with it.
In the future, there are going to be even more handhelds than there are now, but they’ll be able to make phone calls and we’ll call them smartphones.
Why we’ve decided to call handhelds with mobile phone capabilities “smartphones” isn’t particularly clear to me. And any time you want to start an argument, try to get a couple of people to agree on what a smart phone is. Just about everyone has a different idea of where cellular-wireless handhelds leave off and where smart phones begin.
Peering into the Future
So if handhelds and smartphones are merging, what are mobile devices going to look like in the future?
Let’s start at the low end. Entry-level handhelds like the palmOne Zire 21 are mostly going away. These are almost entirely used to store people’s calendars and address books, and low-end smart phones can do this job better. It just makes more sense to keep your address book on your phone, where you can easily look up and dial people’s numbers.
Of course, these smartphones will have other features too, like cameras. If you want an example of a product in this category, the Motorola MPx200 is a good one (see picture at left).
This is going to be far-and-away the most popular category. About ten low-end smartphones will be sold for every one more expensive device. Mostly this is true because a lot of people don’t want a smartphone at all, but their carrier will push it on them, hoping they’ll run up big bills exchanging photos and email.
Somewhere in the middle of all this will be special-purpose wireless devices, like the BlackBerry line or the hiptop. These will satisfy people whose needs are fairly simple, like wireless email, and really don’t want any more.
As hardware prices get higher, things become much more complex because different people have different needs.
As I see it, we consumers can be broken into those who want one device that does it all and those who want a group of specialty devices.
For those who want a single device that does as much as possible, the Motorola MPx is a good example of what to expect in the future. It combines a higher-resolution screen than can be found in less expensive models with other high-end features, like multiple forms of wireless networking.
However, devices like this won’t satisfy everyone. There’s no way there’s ever going to be a smart phone with a 4-inch or larger screen. It would simply be too big to hold up to your ear to talk. But larger screens really make using handhelds easier.
As I see it, there will be two options for those wanting a really high-end model. The real difference between them will be whether they have cellular-wireless capability built in or not. If they don’t, they’ll still have some way to wirelessly connect to a mobile phone. We’re rapidly reaching the point where a handheld that can’t connected to the Internet is as pointless as a PC that can’t.
This is the category where the sky is the limit. We’ll see big VGA (and higher) screens, built-in mini hard drives, the fastest processors, the whole enchilada. Basically, these will be laptop replacements. Some will actually look like small laptops; others will resemble the high-end handhelds of today, like the Toshiba e805 (pictured at right).
And, of course, there’ll be plenty of people with no interest in a handheld at all, and will use a tablet or laptop. The point is, there’ll be lots of options.
More Is Better
All those articles about the impending death of the handheld imply that you’ll have fewer options in the future, which absolutely is not true. If anything, you’ll have more.
If you just want a simple device that stores addresses and phone number and lets you make phone calls, these will still be around in the future.
If you are happy with your current handheld, you’ll be able to get something like it in the future, except it will be able to wirelessly access the Internet.
Or if you want a handheld that has a very high resolution screen, gigabytes of storage, and talks via Bluetooth to a mobile phone, you’ll have that option, too.
The sky is not falling, the end of the world is not upon us, and handhelds are not doomed.