Future cellphones will make PDAs obsolete

The way I see it , the current direction that wireless technology is taking will eliminate the need for PDAs (personal digital assistants) as we know them today.

The way I see it , the current direction that wireless technology is taking will eliminate the need for PDAs (personal digital assistants), which include, but are not limited to, Palm handhelds, Handspring Visors, and Win CE Pocket PCs as we know them today. The mobile Web will pull a disappearing act as well.

To those Palm adherents, I can only say that the eternal existence of the Palm handheld is not part of God's plan, at least as far as I can tell.

And back on earth, lest you doubt that well-financed, well-hyped hardware can fail, how many companies bought into and still use those hybrid Win CE mini-notebooks?

They were called Jupiter devices at the time and ran Win CE (created and backed by a fairly large software company) although the devices themselves were made by such leading industry hardware giants as Compaq Computer, Hewlett-Packard, and IBM.

Cellphones will become the dominant way to access data because, when the smoke clears, no later than next year users will discover that the kind of data they want to access is easily displayed on a cellphone.

Best case, we will see a hybrid of the original smart phone. These will be smarter phones with enough capability to store a calendar perhaps, but with their major strength coming from access to short bursts of information, something that will be available to all mobile phone users.

By the way, look for Palm to announce a combo cellphone/Palm in a smaller form factor than the current Palm V. In a few short years, PDAs will look as archaic as a 10-pound walkie-talkie you might see in an old World War II movie.

The mobile or wireless Internet will also disappear as IP becomes the behind-the-scenes technology to deliver data that is either pushed or pulled to a user. The only information sent down to mobile phones will be requested by the user, either through a corporate script or a personal profile.

And isn't that what most of us want and are willing to pay for, or our companies will be willing to pay for -- access to information we want, not data arbitrarily selected for us by our service provider or handset manufacturer when we buy a phone.

My guess is we will all suffer through another year of noise from content providers and wireless Internet plumbing suppliers with dozens of new products and service offerings.

But this time next year, things will finally come into focus. The true killer app for wireless is any app that makes life easier for us in our personal and professional lives. And because our jobs and lives are unique, we need to choose that ourselves rather than have AT&T Wireless do it for us.

Two smart companies with the right idea come immediately to mind. Believe it or not, they both have the word "ray," as in "ray of hope" in their names: SmartRay Network, in New York, and ArrayCom, in San Jose, California.

SmartRay is an Internet content aggregator for wireless devices, similar in a sense to Yahoo or America Online. But in this case, SmartRay takes content off commerce partner databases and allows users to set up filters against the content before it is pushed to them according to their preferences. Content can be alerts or more complete information.

Each time a partner joins the SmartRay network -- currently they have 35 content providers -- users can choose to update their profile to access more information. All the complexities of subscribing to a service are handled by SmartRay. For a business-to-business site the service can be designed in the same way. SmartRay can be accessed over your cell phone at mobile.smartray.com.

The other company, ArrayCom (www.arraycomm.com), is creating its own unique wireless network, which will allow users to download data at about 1Mbit/s, according to founder and CEO Marty Cooper. Cooper, by the way, is credited with inventing the cell phone when he worked at Motorola in the 1970s.

Space doesn't permit me to go into the details of how ArrayCom's iBurst technology works, or what it will take for it to be deployed nationwide, but the concept is equally interesting.

Cooper believes access to wireless data will be optimised around specific marketplaces and be application-specific, rather than using the Internet as we know it today. By the way, Sony believes in Cooper and has invested about $US8 million dollars in his company.

So, although Cooper would not comment on what Sony plans, it wouldn't surprise him to see Internet radios with MP3 players built-in using the ArrayCom network, so that listeners would be able to download a five-minute song in about 20 seconds.

Digital cameras will also be able to access the ArrayCom network. And Cooper tells me we might see it used in tele-medicine with a special shirt that EMTs (emergency medical technicians) might wrap around a patient to measure different body functions and transmit the data back to the emergency room for diagnosis on the fly.

If you think PDAs are here to stay or not, I'd like to hear from you. Email me at Ephraim Schwartz.

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