You Will NOT Be Assimilated
By Eric Lin, Tue Oct 26 00:45:00 GMT 2004

Smartphone convergence, the grand unification of every device into a single handset, is about as likely to succeed as the Grand Unification Theory in Physics.


Today at CTIA in San Francisco, PalmOne announced the Treo 650, the next version of the Palm OS smartphone. While it is not the full featured upgrade many punters were hoping for, it does address many complaints about the previous version. However PalmOne has also chosen to leave out certain expected upgrades like a higher resolution camera or Wi-Fi compatibility. With this Treo, PalmOne announced it would include synchronization with Microsoft Exchange, firming up the perception that while it is capable of acting as a Palm organizer, that this is primarily an email device. It has a thumb keyboard, push email and a higher resolution screen all similar to current Blackberry devices.

Kyocera, another phone manufacturer that offered a Palm OS smartphone has decided to drop the smartphone line. Its research indicates that most users do not want a handset that tries to do everything. "We're not going to do the kitchen sink anymore," said Kyocera's Don McGuire. Instead it will offer mobile phones that will strongly focus on one other task in addition to mobile communication. McGuire said that customers want a converged device that offers an interface similar to the single-task devices it is blending. Phones designed to replace the sub-three megapixel digital cameras that many electronics companies are dropping must look and feel like a camera. Music phones need an external interface for play, pause, next track, etc. to emulate the feel of an mp3 player. It is true that music phones may include a small digital camera, as nearly every handset is heading that way, but that will not be the overt focus of many of these phones.

Even PalmOne's choice of upgrades and changes to the Treo 650 indicate that the company is focusing its smartphone on a particular task, and with it, a particular audience. It might be said that Sony Ericsson followed PalmOne's formula, recently upgrading its P series smartphone to add a thumb keyboard for ease of messaging without upgrading the camera or other aspects of the phone. However SonyEricsson is still advertising the new device as "all in one" and "one device, every possibility" on its site. Nokia's recently announced 9300 Communicator removes the camera (only recently added to the line) from the experience altogether, focusing the phone solely on voice and messaging -- very much like the Blackberry.

After a short period of trying to pack smartphones with every imaginable feature, it seems companies are stepping back and focusing their smart devices on messaging or mobile Internet features. It is a strong possibility that with new versions of operating systems like Series 60, UIQ 3 or Palm OS 6.1, there will also be a proliferation of smartphones designed to perform a different task (such as imaging, music, or instant messaging). Thanks to new one-handed operating systems, nearly universal support for Java (or Brew) and this trend towards a specific use devices, smartphones could start to masquerade as feature phones that excel at one particular thing. The word smartphone, in fact, could be a passing trend we may trade for terms like emailphone, camerphone (which might shift to signify a phone that excels at picture taking) and musicphone.