Condemned To Repeat the Past
By Eric Lin, Tue Sep 14 22:15:00 GMT 2004

Data devices like the 2-way pager have become a thing of the past as manufacturers combine data and voice into converged smart devices. So why would a company try to sell a data-only device to user who wanted a converged device in the first place?

Until about a year ago, Palm, and to a lesser degree, RIM and Microsoft were believers in a two device solution. Palm (the hardware company that is now PalmOne), stated loudly and often that it thought users would want to carry a mobile phone as well as a PDA that could connect to the phone (via Bluetooth or IR) for data intensive tasks. In the meantime, Microsoft and RIM started adding telephony to their PDA devices, first as PDA-phones, and later as handset-sized smartphones. As PDA sales slumped, even Palm eventually gave in, saying it would focus on developing smartphones.

Sales trends indicate that the majority of buyers prefer converged devices now. These aren't necessarily smartphones as now many feature phones offer much of the same functionality as smartphones without more complex operating systems or feature overload. Despite this trend, a company called IXI has been trying to sign manufacturers on to its Personal Mobile Gateway (PMG) solution. The PMG acts as a sort of cellular router, forwarding data from a cellular (or wireless LAN) connection to the appropriate client device or from one device to another over Bluetooth. It creates an ecosystem of many devices, each performing specific a function: voice, data, imaging, etc. While the PMG is supposed to be friendlier to use than current Bluetooth solutions, it is still based on the multiple device theory while the market has shifted to single device solutions.

AT&T Wireless has decided to take a chance on the Personal Mobile Gateway, and will soon launch the ogo, a data-centric clamshell with GPRS connectivity, a color screen, a thumb keyboard, and Bluetooth. Bucking the convergence trend, the ogo has no voice telephony, it is strictly a messaging device (email, instant messaging, and SMS) -- the Bluetooth is to connect other PMG accessories like cameras. Despite the capabilities of the PMG platform, it appears the ogo is not capable of voice telephony or AT&T has no plans to implement it for the device. Similar mainstream-focused communicators from RIM/AOL and Motorola were launched when multiple device solutions were popular 3 years ago and failed to catch on even then. Despite a slightly broader set of messaging options, the ogo doesn't really offer users anything more than previous efforts.

The success of the ogo is unlikely, but it's not just this first device -- things don't look much better for the Personal Mobile Gateway platform as a whole. IXI missed its target market with this first device, and that often effects how people view the platform as a whole. IXI and its partners could have rolled out a multi-unit solution geared toward the power users who often still prefer powerful task-oriented devices. With the right combination of a handset, a data device, a camera, etc, the PMG platform might have picked up enough momentum to cause a stir among power users and early adopters. With enough buzz, this interest usually catches the attention mainstream users, who would reconsider their converged handset. However convergence has too much momentum in the mainstream, these are the users who preferred converged devices even before they were available.