Technology: Hand Held Devices Challenge Laptops
Is the day dawning when you can leave your laptop at home and stay in touch with work via a smaller, lighter hand-held gizmo? It is beginning to look that way. High-end cell phones are increasingly able to offer the functions that used to be exclusive to laptop computers. If you are still looking for that perfect gift for someone who works on the road, a versatile "smart" phone might be just the ticket. Better still... perhaps there’s still time to add this to your own wish list.
The quality of the functions offered by high-end cell phones has improved significantly over the last year. Their email capacity still lags that of a laptop, but many have full keyboards, instant messaging and offer effective web browsing capabilities. The slew of new entries into the market challenging the ubiquitous Blackberry produced by Research In Motion (RIM) Ltd. is good news for the consumer. The Blackberry has held sway for a relatively long time, offering consumers the best basic functions and the most reliable security. Palm’s Treo has been Blackberry’s most serious competition, but now the market is attracting more contenders. Nokia and Motorola are all about to unveil new wireless email devices. Hewlett-Packard and Samsung have all improved the email capacity of their products. Increased competition is unlikely to unleash price wars, but consumers will benefit as manufacturers try to improve their market share by offering consumers better performance and faster functions - especially email and web browsing.
The New Models
Spurred by a flurry of competitive products, RIM has released a new Blackberry model that addresses long-standing consumer gripes regarding slow web browsing and file attachment viewing. The new 8700c model, which uses Cingular’s wireless network, is available for about $300 and requires a two-year service commitment. Cingular also recently began offering Hewlett-Packard’s iPAQ hw6500 series Mobile Messenger with a two-year contract for about $400.
Motorola is pinning its hopes on the slick, sleek Motorola Q (pricing is yet to be announced), which will use Microsoft’s latest mobile operating system. Industry experts are also keenly awaiting the arrival of Nokia’s first major entry into the market. Its E series, which will be priced in the $500 range, is slated for rollout in the first quarter of 2006. Though competitors are keen to remind consumers that their hand-held devices offer great choices for email systems, most are now hedging their bets by developing product versions that are compatible with Blackberry’s system. Even Palm’s Treo, which currently operates only on the Palm system, will offer a Blackberry-compatible version in the near future.
In addition to addressing competitors’ efforts to topple Blackberry from its throne, RIM is also facing legal battles. The patent infringement suit by NTP, Inc., which seeks to prevent RIM from distributing the Blackberry in the U.S., is still unresolved. Even if RIM loses the case, commentators believe that RIM has the necessary alternative technology in place to avoid a shutdown. Aside from RIM’s legal issues, industry experts believe that the biggest threat to market expansion is cost, and that wireless email will not become a mainstream product until service charges fall below the current level of approximately $50 per month.