I read an interesting opinion piece this morning in the Boston Herald. In summary, the author suggested that Apple should buy Palm and move the future of the iPod in the direction of a more fully-featured PDA. Now, I’m a mobile guy. I travel frequently for work and I always carry the following items: my 17″ PowerBook, my 20Gb 4G iPod, my Nokia 6630 and my HP iPaq 4700. If I’m going somewhere nice, I’ll pack my Canon EOS350D as well.
Would I like to lighten this load? Of course I would. Would I like Apple to produce a PDA? Absolutely. Would I like Apple to buy Palm? No.
I mentioned that I used an iPaq. Why did I buy a Windows Mobile device? Because I needed a portable electronic diary and I could see very little difference between the Palm OS I used in 1999 on my Palm IIIx and the Palm OS of today. By contrast, the Windows Mobile OS seemed to offer more in every department. However, let’s be clear on one thing here: The PDA ownership experience on Mac OS X stinks. I don’t like owning a Windows Mobile device - the third-party sync tools don’t inspire confidence and as a result I just don’t sync the iPaq.
One only has to look at the iPod to see the great job that Apple can do when they provide the end-to-end experience. iSync is good, but it’s often the non-Apple end that lets it down. If I could have the iPod experience in a PDA for Christmas, well, wouldn’t that be something to get excited about?
I’d love an Apple PDA, but I remain a huge sceptic about device convergence. As I see it, there are three issues that convergence is designed to solve: object bulk, charger multiplication and interoperability.
Let’s talk about object bulk. When I was visiting a friend in San Francisco this year, I compared my gadget bundle with his. I piled up my 20Gb 4G iPod and my Nokia 6630 - my music player, camera and phone. My friend pulled out his iPod nano, his Motorola RAZR and his Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX7 camera. Yes, my music player had a larger capacity but it was also significantly bigger. When you look at some other converged devices - for example, some of the Windows smartphones - the difference is even more interesting. Yes, they’re PDAs too, but my point is that device convergence doesn’t necessarily solve the bulk problem - it simply consolidates it into one bigger lump instead of two or three smaller ones.
As a traveller, I hate the problem of remembering to pack every charger for every device. The rule seems to be the more devices, the more chargers. I’m very optimistic, however, that technologies like the Splashpower recharging pads will start to become more commonplace and multiple devices will all recharge from a single source. I would love a Splashpower pad built into my car’s dashboard!
Finally, interoperability. This remains a problem crying out to be solved elegantly. Bluetooth is the obvious infrastructure for getting all these devices to talk to one another, but the challenge remains in getting discovery, pairing and data sharing to become a smooth and understandable process for most users.
All that said, as a next step, I’ll take that Apple PDA!
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