There is going to be an estimated 600 Million Mobile Internet users in 2004, according to estimates, and this emerging market is now starting to take off. All different parts of the software and Internet industry is moving in to this space, and I’ve seen a huge increase in interest over the last 12 months. The recent JavaOne conference in San Francisco also showed this trend, and I believe that wireless is a major opportunity for Java to make it big. There are lots of debates about Java or NoJava, EPOC vs PalmOS vs PocketPC etc. and maybe these debates are made obsolete by Java? No matter what, there is still one thing that remains to be determined:
What are the devices that we all will use???
The first thing to look at when it comes to devices is the choice between integrated and divided concepts.
This is the classical set-up with one device that acts as the modem and one as the terminal equipment. The application resides solely on the terminal (MC218, Palm V, Laptop etc), which can be used with or without wireless access. The terminal is connected to the modem via IR, serial cable or the emerging Bluetooth radio technology. The modem is then acting purely as an intermediate communications device. One setup could be the Ericsson R520 GPRS phone talking to a Bluetooth device.
- If you want to upgrade one of the devices, you don’t have to upgrade it all
- Sometimes you want to just have a phone with you and not a PDA or an mp3 player (or whatever is in the integrated device)
- The phone with data capabilities can be used together with a laptop OR a PDA OR whatever device I want to use that day
- It might appear more complicated to configure two or more devices than one that is shipped integrated
- Unless you use Bluetooth, the use of cables might get messy
Here, the phone/modem and the device running the application is the same. Smartphones, like the R380, or PDA’s with embedded communication modules. With the integrated concept you have it all in one, and you can take advantage of the synergies between the different parts of the device.
- Easy to use, it can be shipped pre-configured
- If it does not work, there is only one place to look for errors and one vendor to ask for support.
- You only need to keep track of one device
- The integrated device will get bigger and heavier, due to the features included
- With more features integrated, it’s likely that not all of them are perfect for you, but you’re still paying for them
- If you want to upgrade one feature of the device (say the wireless access part), you’re likely to have to buy an entirely new device
It should be noted that the phone part in the divided concept could be a Bluetooth enabled WAP phone, meaning that the phone in itself can run some applications. Once more advanced, client resident applications are needed, the Bluetooth connection can be used to connect to a laptop or PDA. The choice of concept is really up to each individual user, and different users have different needs.
The mass market device for the Mobile Internet applications is likely to be the phone with a WAP browser. Most vendors will include WAP in all their phones starting next year. This means that anyone that buys a phone to use for talking is getting the Mobile Internet features built in. WAP might not have the most advanced applications at this point, but it is very easy to use and get into (especially when GPRS takes away the connection setup-time). Even with the advent of more advanced applications, WAP will still be used to access information, much like the web browser on the PC. The main difference is that phones are not going to be used that much for random browsing, but rather information access, straight to the point. With the advent of WAP 2.0, where multimedia and streaming is foreseen, the width of applications increases drastically. I think that WAP phones with comparatively simple applications will appeal to the mass market users, those who don’t go about the web scouting for the new and cool applications. Some investigation indicated that around 90% of MS Windows users newer change the looks of their desktop. I doubt that those users will use any application other than the ones that are just one click away. Even though client resident applications can achieve that, it’s going to be easier with WAP, where nothing is installed on the device.
The PDA’s, used as integrated devices or using the divided concept, will also grab a big market share. It’s all up to the device and OS manufacturers to make these as easy to use and get into as their phones. One big advantage with PDA’s is that they are using open platforms. This means that there are already a vast number of applications available for download. Furthermore, I strongly believe that any PDA that wants to survive will have to have at east Bluetooth integrated in it. With the advent of Bluetooth, you can buy a Bluetooth headset and use that to get access to the phone features in the PDA. That way, the user will perceive the headset to basically be the phone. One light phone that is. Especially in the US, people are getting used to this form factor and it’s applications, and it is very habit forming. It still remains to see if PDA’s are the device of choice for teenagers and grandmothers, who knows?
A hybrid of the WAP phone and the PDA is the smartphone, as touched upon earlier. Those devices are still phone centric, but they have most of the functionality of a PDA. It will be interesting to see where the smartphone users are migrating from: Are they ex-PDA users or ex-phone users, and are they still keeping either of these devices. The smartphone is the ultimate integrated concept, and some of the devices that are coming our during 2000 will show indications on the user adoption of these.
Apart from these, there are some interesting vertical market devices coming out, like dedicated gaming handhelds, bar code readers, cars with wireless access, soda machines etc.
The device question is still open, which kind will have the strongest growth in the upcoming years? I think that there is room for a multitude of form factors and there will be a substantial growth in all areas.Don’t hesitate to drop me a line with suggestions and comments (responses may be slow sometimes, though, due to the huge amount of incoming mails). If you are in the process of developing wireless applications, make sure to sign up as a member at the Mobile Applications Initiative, (membership is free and open to anyone, not just the ones currently developing wireless applications). You can also drop in at one of the Ericsson MAI test labs for tests in a wireless environment and feedback on how to optimize for wireless.