I’ve believed for years that, someday, all handhelds will have built-in cellular-wireless access. But now I’m beginning to wonder if that’s true.
The advantages of cellular-wireless handhelds are obvious. They allow you to easily check your email and surf the Web wherever and whenever you want. You’re no longer tied to your desk or even a Wi-Fi access point, and you don’t have to worry about juggling multiple devices.
And as cellular-wireless networks offer faster and faster data transfer speeds, the devices connecting to them become increasingly useful.
Your flight is delayed? Download a movie to watch. Need some music to listen to while you’re on the train? Have it streamed to you. Can’t make it to your your son’s baseball game? Have your wife send you some video of it… live.
The Worm in the Apple
As nice as this vision is, there are some drawbacks, especially for us hard-core handheld users.
Most of these aren’t technological problems; they are business related.
Selection Most wireless service providers offer a decent selection of wireless handhelds, but no single carrier is ever going to offer all of them. The costs of adding each new device are just too high.
Therefore, if there’s a new cellular-wireless model you really have your heart set on, you might have to change wireless providers to get it.
The ability to buy unlocked versions of devices helps a bit with this, but if the only version of new handheld being made is for GSM/GPRS networks, there’s no way you’re ever going to use it on Sprint, because that company’s networks use a totally different standard.
Delay When developing a standard handheld, as soon as the maker is satisfied with it, the device can go into production.
This isn’t true of a cellular-wireless handheld. Before it can reach consumers’ hands, each wireless carrier that plans to offer it puts the device through a battery of tests to make sure it is compatible with their networks.
This takes months, and it’s why cellular-wireless models often don’t go on sale until long after their initial announcement.
For example, some carriers are just starting to offer iPAQ h6300 handhelds, even though this series was first announced last summer.
Incidentally, it’s the cost and hassle of this battery of tests that causes wireless service providers to not offer every possible model.
Upgrades It’s hard enough to get handheld makers to offer operating system upgrades for their standard models, but this process is even more complicated for cellular-wireless handhelds, because two companies are involved, and both have to want to release the upgrade.
Whenever a major OS upgrade comes out, the handheld makers have to tweak it for each of their particular models. Then, when this process is complete, the software is handed over to the carriers, who essentially treat each model running it as if it were brand new, and put it through the battery of network compatibility tests again.
This means one of two things: either the cellular-wireless device gets the upgrade months after regular devices do, or the carrier decides to not go to the trouble and expense of re-testing and doesn’t offer the upgrade at all.
Sadly, it’s the second of these two options that seems to be the more popular. I can’t think of a single current cellular-wireless Pocket PC that’s going to get an upgrade to Windows Mobile 5.0.
Features One of the most basic rules of design is that the product being created must satisfy the target market.
When a standard handheld is being developed, the target market is you and me, the man on the street. Therefore the developers try to create the device we want.
When a cellular-wireless handheld is being developed, the target market is the wireless service providers, as it is these companies who will buy the device from the maker, then turn around and offer it to us consumers.
Of course, both groups keep our wishes in mind, but the wireless service providers have their own agendas, and sometimes features are added or taken out at their orders.
This is why virtually all cellular-wireless handhelds have a camera built into them, even though a lot of consumers don’t feel a big need for this. The carriers want us to take tons of pictures and run up big bills sending them to all our friends.
This is also why, for example, the Verizon version of the Treo 650 has Bluetooth Dial-Up Networking disabled. Verizon doesn’t want its customers to use their handhelds as wireless modems for their laptops.
One Piece vs. Two Piece
These are some of the reasons why many people will continue to use their mobile phones as modems for their handhelds for much longer than I thought they would.
Still, there are always going to be plenty of people for whom the two-piece solution is too much of a hassle, and want a handheld that offers cellular-wireless functionality built in.
I just wanted these people to realize that there are plenty of hassles involved in the one-piece solution, too.