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The phone is the finest form factor

Mobile computing devices are everywhere these days. Millions of workers are doing business far from the office, and hardware developers have created a veritable cornucopia of untethered devices to keep them connected, wirelessly.

For IT organizations, deciding which of these devices to support can be a challenge. Unlike desktop machines, which are relatively unvarying in form and function, mobile devices come with a wide range of features, functions, and purposes. And the costs of the devices can vary just as widely, from a $200 pager to an $8,000 ruggedized laptop.

According to at least one market research firm, the wireless handset—in other words, the cell phone—will be the primary "target device form factor" as communication and information technologies converge.

"Wireless handsets are evolving from and substantially expanding the definition of what has traditionally been the voice-only cell phone market," says Brenda Sky, analyst with Cahner Business Information's In-Stat Group (http://www.instat.com). "With relatively modest form factor adaptations, wireless handsets will be the standard, single-handed use, mobile Personal Area Network (m-PAN) form factor."

The recent report, "Handheld Convergence: The Mobility Revolution has Arrived," the In-Stat Group asserts that, to be successful, wireless handheld device industry players must "quickly and aggressively stake out next generation phone feature set differentiators while strategically leveraging regional market dynamics and successfully positioning for global 3G."

"Eventually, these units will automatically synchronize with selected other handheld and stand-alone desktop resources, and seamlessly network with wireless LANs," Sky says. "Evolution from desktop PCs and wired telephones to wireless multi-purpose handheld mobile devices is inevitable."

Not surprisingly, Ben Ho, director of strategic and partner marketing for wireless phone service provider, Nextel Communications, agrees. "We're seeing a convergence of devices," Ho says. "There is a market out there for integrated devices that blend a PDA, a cell phone, a pager, and a RIM-type device. And there is always going to be a demand for mobile, data-access that a cell phone can really address better than some of these other devices. The cell phone is going to be one of the strongest form factors going forward in the near term."

In April, Nextel announced the first mobile phones available in the US that can run real applications. A number of other vendors, including Nokia, Siemens, and Sony, have since promised to unveil their own similar devices very soon.

And according to In-Stat researchers:

  • The wireless mobility space is growing out of traditional fixed environments, including corporate, SOHO, and home communication and information stations.
  • Immediate, highly leveraged feature set choices relative to price point, user value, and trade-off device characteristics (e.g. stand-by time vs. battery size) are the most critical factor to create long-range success for manufacturers and service providers. Compelling, differentiating 2+G handset feature sets lay essential groundwork for success in tomorrow's 3G environment.
  • Handset unit sales will grow to 997.7 million by the end of fiscal 2005.

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at john@watersworks.com.

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