Making the Case for Convergence

With all the talk about smart phones and PDA phones it’s easy to get confused or wonder what all the fuss is really about. How is one type of phone different from the other and why does it even matter. Most folks are probably happy with their current mobile phone and many don’t use the majority of the features that come with the latest and greatest devices. With all this being said, how do you justify paying upwards of $400 for a smart phone or a PDA phone?

First, let’s talk about the differences between smart phones and PDA phones. Generally, all PDA phones are smart phones but not all smart phones are PDA phones. A PDA phone is a PDA (typically including calendar, contacts, to-do list, notepad, calculator, games, ebook reader, large screen, memory expansion, computer synchronization, multi-media functionality and robust operating systems like Palm OS or Windows Mobile for Pocket PC allowing add-on programs and office suite applications compatibility) with an integrated mobile phone often offering quad-band access (800/900/1800/1900) for use on world-wide GSM networks. Additionally, many PDA phones—since they are PDAs—include other connection options like Infrared, Bluetooth, and WiFi. Voice recorders and cameras are options with a speakerphone and headphone jack often included. My current device of choice—an HP iPAQ h6315 includes all the features listed above. PDA phones focus on data as the primary customer need and voice capabilities are added and integrated into the software to make using the phone that much easier. PDA phones are also better suited to browsing the web (from anywhere using GPRS or from a hotspot using WiFi) and working remotely from the office given their larger screens and increased memory capabilities. The tradeoff for a PDA phone is that they tend to be bigger than most other mobile phones though the Treo 600/650 are the closest in form factor to most candy bar-shaped mobile phones.

So what about other phones that aren’t as feature rich as PDA phones—how do you distinguish smart phones from those that aren’t so smart? After all, the free phone that came with my mobile plan has a personal information manager (PIM) for my contacts, calendar, to do list, and notepad, an MP3 player, digital camera, color screen, speakerphone and I can browse the internet and send text messages while storing information on the internal memory card or SIM card. That’s smart, right? Well yes and no. Certainly a phone with these features is much better than the basic mobile that pretty limited to letting you talk and send text messages but many within the technical community debate whether this first type of “smarter” phone with all its functionality, although less feature rich than a PDA phone truly qualifies as a smart phone. They argue that a smart phone should still include some type of operating system like Series 60 (Symbian) for Nokia or Windows Mobile for Smart phones. An operating systems allows these phones to run applications written by developers for the system regardless of the phone manufacturer and functionality approaching that of PDA phones is possible though less robust. These phones tend to be slightly larger than most mobiles given some additional screen size and room for cameras or higher capacity batteries but not as large as PDA phones. These phones focus on voice as the primary customer need and add data capabilities for those who want to carry more of their data with them. Though these phone usually include quad-band access the other connectivity options probably won’t exist and the memory capabilities tend to be less than that of PDA phones.

Whether your primary need is data or voice, either a PDA phone or a smart phone will suit your needs to combine two or more devices into one for additional convenience (and savings when you consider the price of each device separately—mobile phone, PDA, and snap-shot camera) and peace of mind in knowing that you have what you need with you when you need it. Given the range of connectivity options inherent in either choice, you can use the device to get connected to people (voice/telephone/email/SMS), places (telephone/internet), and things (camera/infrared/Bluetooth/WiFi).


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